For the first time in nearly a decade, the New York Mets have targets on the their backs again — only now as the defending National League champs. And while history has shown us that being “the team to beat” usually doesn’t work out very well for them, there is a convincing argument to be made that 2016 will be different.
Look no further than the starting rotation, with three Cy Young candidates in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Even Steven Matz could force his way into that discussion, after a few more starts under his belt, and the rehabbing Zack Wheeler is waiting in the wings.
With that group, the Mets shouldn’t need a ton of runs, but they have the potential to rack them up anyway with Lucas Duda and Yoenis Cespedes doing the heavy lifting. The X-factor here remains David Wright, whose chronic back issue could limit him to anywhere between 90 and 130 games. And what kind of run producer can Wright be during those tightly-monitored stretches?
Terry Collins did a great job keeping the Mets on track under all sorts of duress last season, but he’ll be saddled with greater expectations, partly due to the fact the Wilpons spent $140 million on this year’s club — the most since 2011. The Mets showed they could take a punch en route to the NL East crown, but it would help considerably if they come out swinging in their title defense this season.
Bryce Harper’s crew gets to the play the underdog role this time around, at least in the shadow of all the Mets’ hype, and that could make them more dangerous. New manager Dusty Baker will keep things loose — this should be easy compared to handling the Barry Bonds Experience in SF — and the Nats aren’t too shabby in the pitching department themselves. Can Daniel Murphy’s bat make his glove palatable in D.C.?
Jose Fernandez is one of the game’s best young arms and Giancarlo Stanton is a fearsome masher. The Marlins have just had trouble keeping both on the field, and if they do stay healthy this season, Miami could be a sneaky threat. If not, there’s always Ichiro’s pursuit of 3,000 hits, a huge milestone that probably won’t move the needle much on South Beach.
It’s farewell and good riddance to Turner Field, a ballpark that felt outdated from the moment it opened in 1997. Might as well just fast-forward to 2017 for Sun Life Park and Dansby Swanson.
Come for the Phanatic, stay for the cheesesteaks. Otherwise, not much to see this season at Citizens Bank Park, except for maybe Ryan Howard as the last man standing from the ’08 world champs.
ALL THE BEST
Manager: Dusty Baker, Wash.
GM: Sandy Alderson, Mets
Everyday player: Bryce Harper, Wash.
Hitter: Bryce Harper, Wash.
Leadoff hitter: Curtis Granderson, Mets
Baserunner: Dee Gordon, Miami
Most exciting: Bryce Harper, Wash.
Infielder: Dee Gordon, Miami
Outfielder: Ender Inciarte, Atl.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos, Wash.
Starter: Max Scherzer, Wash.
Setup: Addison Reed, Mets
Closer: Jeurys Familia, Mets
Home uniforms: Braves
Ballpark atmosphere: Citi Field