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Five questions facing the Mets ahead of expected return for second spring training

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso reacts as he

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso reacts as he rounds the bases on his two-run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning at Citi Field on Sunday, July 7, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Baseball, finally, is starting up again. As the Mets congregate for their second spring training of the year — this one at Citi Field — here are five questions they’re facing.

How will the rotation fare without Noah Syndergaard?

Syndergaard is out for the year after having Tommy John surgery in March, a tremendous loss for a Mets team that long has been built around its rotation. His absence puts greater significance on the pitchers behind him pitching up to and perhaps beyond their capabilities: Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.

Stroman, Porcello and Wacha are all pitching for new contracts this offseason. And Jacob deGrom, of course, will be competing for a third consecutive Cy Young Award.

What can Pete Alonso do for an encore?

Alonso’s first year in the majors was beyond the Mets’ wildest dreams: a franchise single-season record 53 homers, an All-Star Game appearance and Home Run Derby win, a Rookie of the Year Award — and, through all of the success and attention, an extreme comfort in who he is, how he feels and what the wants to say.

The Mets rewarded Alonso with a 2020 salary of $652,521, the highest ever for a second-year player. (Alonso in reality will receive less than that, since it is a shortened season. But the gesture remains.)

Expectations can be a funny thing. Stagnation or even slight regression would mean an immensely successful year for Alonso, but he always has his mind on more, including a Gold Glove award.

How are Yoenis Cespedes, Jed Lowrie and Michael Conforto?

The Mets haven’t released injury updates for any of these players since camp was shut down March 12, but this trio could make a significant impact if they are healthy.

At last check, Conforto was dealing with an oblique strain that made him questionable for the original Opening Day. He should be fine unless something else happened since then.

Lowrie has been dealing with mysterious left leg injuries since at least February 2019. In workouts during the first spring training, he wore a bulky brace that ran from mid-thigh to almost his ankle. He split time in drills between second base and third base, so if he is healthy he could fill a utility infielder/pinch hitter role — but that is a huge if.

Cespedes’ progress in March included facing pitchers during live batting practice and running in a straight line. He had not yet run the bases. He wasn’t fully participating in defensive drills. Cespedes certainly had hoped to be ready by now — his goal was to be ready for the start of the regular season, which was unlikely — but the questions about his endurance and if he will be able to play defense regularly still exist, 23 months after his most recent major-league game.

Who will get the DH at-bats?

At last, the designated hitter is coming to the National League (at least for this shortened 2020 season), a development that should benefit the Mets significantly.

Cespedes, if healthy, is a strong candidate to get DH at-bats. So is J.D. Davis. So are Robinson Cano and Alonso if the Mets want to give them occasional half-days off.

The Mets will have options, which is a happy problem for manager Luis Rojas and the front office.

Are the Mets good?

Ultimately, this is the only thing that really matters, right? All of the above questions feed into this one.

Last season, the Mets finished 86-76, third in the NL East — better than the year before but still mediocre. They missed the playoffs for a third year in a row.

A shorter season means baseball’s marathon is more of sprint, and with that comes a wider spread of possible outcomes. A slow start could doom a team. A hot stretch could turn a so-so club into a division winner. If the Mets play like they did in the second half last year, they could be a force come playoff time.

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