If you asked us early in the 2016 season, we’d tell you the New York Mets had the best chance of anyone to win the World Series. No other team could touch that rotation and the club looked like it had the offense to put enough runs on the board.
Then injuries and the fall of Michael Conforto happened, leaving the Mets punchless at the plate on so many nights. As the Amazin’s stumble into the All-Star Break, it’s time to wonder if the 2016 Mets model is actually viable and whether or not any trade can correct the problem.
The struggles of Mets hitters have been documented here and elsewhere. While hurt by the absences of David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud, active Mets players have been unable to deliver with men on base, especially when runners land in scoring position. Blame cannot be pinned on one or two players, and GM Sandy Alderson reinforced this notion by saying the club is not looking for this year’s Yoenis Cespedes.
“There’s no single acquisition, at least that I can see, that’s gonna change what’s transpired over the last two months,” Alderson told reporters as the Mets sputtered into July. “It’s gonna have to come from within.”
Indeed, as the worst clutch-hitting team in baseball, New York can only get better. The return of d’Arnaud and, eventually, Duda, could be the biggest boost the Mets could ask for by the trade deadline. Yet injury concerns in the starting rotation are the most troubling thing for management to consider.
Within the space of a few games in the last week of June, we learned of bone spurs in the elbows of both Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard. Matz, whose condition is worse than Syndergaard’s, would be forced to sit out until October if the issue requires surgery. The left-hander will play through the pain and see if he responds to a cortisone injection.
Syndergaard claims he will be fine without surgery, but both will experience discomfort during their starts and may need the occasional skipped turn on the hill. Looking at the rest of the rotation, New York has been forced to deal with an inconsistent Matt Harvey and a slower-tossing Jacob deGrom in 2016.
In other words, this young, flame-throwing rotation has its injury concerns. (Matz, Harvey, and Zack Wheeler — the latter is still working his way back — have all had Tommy John surgery to repair elbow ligament damage.) Without three of the Mets’ top arms on the mound every turn through the rotation, it is difficult to see this team outscoring the opposition.
Though it may seem unthinkable, you have to wonder if the Mets rotation is too young, too hard-throwing to be a sustainable force.
When the Nationals were headed to the 2012 postseason, the absence of Stephen Strasburg was an event Washington has not gotten over years later. You wonder if the Mets could find themselves in the same position (i.e., with its best arms sidelined) at the end of this season. Without its core of young starters on the mound, the offense would have to be a more imposing force.
That likelihood was shrinking as the All-Star Break approached, but management proved it would not sit idly while runners were marooned on base. The first sign was the demotion of Conforto, the star-in-waiting who hit .169 in May and .119 in June before being optioned to the minors.
Brandon Nimmo, Conforto’s replacement, delivered a game-winning hit in his first game at Citi Field and followed with a three-run bomb off to put away the Cubs the next night, so maybe the reboot will work. More internal shuffling may be ahead, but the Mets lineup appears more or less set for 2016.
Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker will be expected to set the table; James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Cespedes will be asked to drive them home; and Terry Collins will mix and match to get production from the bottom of the order. This is the New York Mets model circa 2016.
One or two starter injuries could uproot the system, as could an injury to Cespedes. If any of those things happen, we won’t wonder whether this team can win the World Series; we’ll wonder how we all missed the roster’s vulnerability.
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