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Previewing the Yankees’ new rivals: New York Mets

The Yankees’ crosstown rivals profile as an interesting squad for the shortened season.

New York Mets v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Last week, we started looking at the NL East, with the Yankees set to dedicate one-third of their 2020 schedule to their NL counterparts. We previewed the Phillies, who look like a decent opponent, and the Braves, who could prove a very strong foe.

Today, we’ll take a look at the crosstown rival New York Mets. As ever, it’s not exactly easy to pin down the Mets. They’ve been an unpredictable, high-variance team the past half-decade, and this season doesn’t look much different.

The Fundamentals

2019 Record: 86-76

2020 Playoff Odds: 43.3%, per FanGraphs

Manager: Luis Rojas

Thanks to a spectacular midseason surge, the Mets put together a pretty solid 2019, one that could’ve yielded a playoff spot if they were a bit more fortunate. FanGraphs’ Baseruns metric actually pegged the Mets as the fifth-best team in the NL last year, just barely ahead of the actual fifth-seeded Milwaukee Brewers.

Expectations for this abbreviated campaign put the Mets in a similar spot to last season. A run at a Wild Card spot would surprise no one, but this being the Mets, a last-place finish would also hardly cause an observer to bat an eye.

As has become typical in recent years, a playoff push in Queens will likely come on the strength of the Mets’ pitching staff. Unfortunately for the Mets and people who just like when baseball is fun, their number-two starter, Noah Syndergaard, will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, leaving the rotation weaker than it looked six months ago.

Still, the rest of the staff still appears playoff-caliber, almost entirely due to the presence of two-time reigning NL Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom. deGrom is reportedly dealing with a minor back injury. A major ailment is probably the only thing that could keep deGrom from entering the year as the favorite to take home the Cy Young for a third time.

Marcus Stroman steps in as the new number-two, coming off a strong 2019. Stroman will enter his walk year looking to repeat the 136 ERA+ he compiled between Toronto and New York.

Things drop off from there. Steven Matz tantalizes at times, and has actually stayed healthy enough to turn in 30 starts of roughly league-average ball each of the past two season. One could do worse for a third starter. Of course, one could probably do better for a fourth than Rick Porcello, who get crushed all 2019 en route to a 5.52 ERA. His peripherals did suggest some poor luck, so perhaps a bit of positive regression leaves him as a fine backend arm.

The race for the fifth-starter job is uninspiring. Veteran Michael Wacha looks slotted in currently, but young arms Corey Oswalt and Walter Lockett could be pressed into duty if deGrom or someone else is injured. The rotation is clearly top heavy, and will rate as well above average if deGrom can sustain his 2018-2019 performance. Things may collapse if he doesn’t.

The bullpen is a pretty deep and high-variance group. Edwin Diaz was perhaps the story of the Mets 2019 campaign, as the ace closer blew seven saves with a 5.59 ERA after coming over in a high-profile trade with the Mariners. He almost certainly can’t be as bad as he was last year, and any return to form would allow him to anchor a potentially quality unit.

Former Yankee Dellin Betances, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman Justin Wilson, and Jeurys Familia form an interesting group behind Diaz. All have elite or near-elite performance in their recent past. Betances also missed nearly all of 2019, and Familia was one of the worst relievers inthe game. Gsellman is now 26 and has failed to capture the promise he showed a few years ago as a rookie. Wislon was pretty excellent last year, as was Lugo, and the Mets will expect them to keep close to that standard.

The pitching staff as a whole has plenty of talent and will rank among the best in the game if its biggest names perform to their abilities. The position player group can hold its own at the plate, and will an in all likelihood do enough to make a strong season on the pitching half stand up.

Pete Alonso is the star here, after his 53-dinger rookie season, but he’s far from alone. Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, Wilson Ramos, Brandon Nimmo, and Yoenis Cespedes (!) all project for above-average batting lines. Robinson Cano and Amed Rosario fall just short, but still project as about average starters thanks to their up-the-middle defensive positions.

The clubs has bats, but as usual the lineup has been assembled in a clunky manner. Between Nimmo, Conforto, Cespedes, and Davis, the Mets have no true center fielder, though the first two could probably pick it. It’s unclear if the team will work Dominic Smith’s bat into the lineup. The clogged corners on the roster should, however, be relieved a bit by the universal DH in 2020.

The Mets look like a decent team top to bottom, but really didn’t do much to supplement their core talent last offseason. The team added Porcello and Wacha as backend depth, but saw them pushed up the pecking order with the Syndergaard injury. The team’s biggest position player addition was Jake Marisnick. The Mets are betting a lot on continued breakouts from the likes of Alonso, McNeil, and Davis, while hoping that enough veterans from the group of Diaz, Betances, Familia, Porcello, Cespedes, Cano, and Wacha bounce back to push the team into playoffs.

It could happen, especially if deGrom continues to go supernova, and the team really could get at least a couple of the aforementioned veterans to return to form. But will enough of them bounce back to bring October baseball back to Queens?