New York Mets: 10 Bold Predictions for Their 2nd Half

Shale BriskinContributor IIIJuly 11, 2012

New York Mets: 10 Bold Predictions for Their 2nd Half

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    With the first half of the 2012 MLB season now complete, it's time to look forward, towards the second half of the Mets' season.

    Widely expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year, the Mets have surprised many with a 46-40 record at the All-Star break, which is third in the NL East division and 4.5 games behind the division leading Nationals. The Mets are also just a half game behind the Reds and Braves for the NL Wild Card lead.

    So far, the Mets have mostly been successful because of their starting rotation, which has been led by R.A. Dickey, who is arguably the best pitcher in the game today. Dickey leads the majors with 12 wins and has a 2.40 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP as well.

    Johan Santana has made quite a comeback with a 3.24 ERA and a no-hitter this year, despite a 6-5 record. Jon Niese has had a solid 7-4 record and a 3.73 ERA. Dillon Gee was just placed on the disabled list while recovering from a blood clot, but he is 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA in what has been an inconsistent season from him. Finally, after Mike Pelfrey had Tommy John surgery, the Mets struggled to find a reliable fifth starter until Chris Young made his return in June. Young is 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA in six starts.

    The Mets' offense has been led by All-Star third baseman and MVP candidate David Wright, who is batting .351 with 11 home runs, 59 RBI and a 1.004 OPS. He has basically carried the Mets' offense thus far into the season.

    Rookie outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis got off to a fast start but has cooled off recently. Nonetheless, Nieuwenhuis has a .268 average, seven home runs and 25 RBI. The only other major surprise has been outfielder Scott Hairston, who has 12 home runs and 34 RBI, despite a .249 average. Few hitters this year have hit left-handed pitching better than him. Right fielder Lucas Duda has had a solid first half as well, with a .249 average, 12 home runs and 44 RBI.

    On the other hand, some of the other Mets hitters have certainly underachieved. First baseman Ike Davis got off to a horrendous start and was batting below .200 until late June. Second baseman Daniel Murphy got off to a fast start but had a big slump of his own during most of June, which brought his average down to .295.

    While shortstop Ruben Tejada got off to a great start, he missed almost two months on the disabled list. Center fielder Andres Torres missed some time after getting injured on Opening Day and has yet to hit well consistently this year. The same could be said of catcher Josh Thole, whose season got off to a good start before suffering a concussion in early May. Ever since returning from the disabled list, Thole has struggled at the plate.

    The Mets' biggest weakness though by far has been their bullpen. Despite having 18 saves, Frank Francisco has been rather inconsistent at times and has an ERA at 4.97, which is not ideal for any closer. Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez have both pitched inconsistently as well and both will need to pitch better in the second half.

    Bobby Parnell, though, has been one of the most durable relievers and is currently the closer while Francisco remains on the disabled list. He has a 2.83 ERA and two saves so far. The only other dependable reliever has been the veteran left-handed specialist, Tim Byrdak.

    Overall, the Mets have had their ups and downs, both individually and as a team, but they are in a great position to make a run at their first postseason appearance since 2006.

    Here are 10 bold predictions for the Mets' second half of the season.

1. The Mets Will Get into the 2012 Postseason

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    Unlike other recent Mets teams that have had decent starts but ended up falling apart down the stretch, this group of Mets players is unique and has amazing chemistry. The chemistry resembles that of the 2000 National League Champion Mets.

    Both the 2000 and 2012 teams included an offensive superstar (Mike Piazza in 2000 and David Wright today), but the rest of the lineups lacked other notable hitters. Yet, those hitters unexpectedly excelled in 2000 and are certainly capable of doing so again this year. Bobby Valentine did a great job with the Mets in 2000, and Terry Collins' job this year has been phenomenal.

    The Mets will be giving the Nationals a run for their money as both teams are in the running for the NL East division title. The Phillies' have won this divisional title for the last five years, but this is very likely to be just the second year since 1990 in which a team other than the Braves or Phillies will win the NL East division title. The only other year was in 2006, when the Mets ran away with the division lead.

    Speaking of the Braves, they are right in the mix as well, so the Mets' games against the Nationals and Braves will be very critical at the end because those games alone could determine whether the Mets will win the division or not. The Marlins are fading and are not expected to contend this year, while the Phillies' run has pretty much come to an end as they start to rebuild.

    Outside of the NL East, the Mets' main competition for the Wild Card will include the Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers. Of course, two of those five teams will end up winning their respective divisions, but the other teams have just as much of a shot to contend as the Mets do right now.

    Now that two teams will become part of the new Wild Card play-in game, the Mets would not necessarily have to finish first in the Wild Card race just to get to the postseason. With that being said, there is no way that the Mets should not be a part of at least this play-in game.

    Furthermore, the Braves and Pirates may not be able to keep up in the standings unless they both make some big trades by the trade deadline. The Cardinals will need a big second half just to remain in the race while the Nationals will have to deal with playing without their ace, Stephen Strasburg, who will be shut down for the season immediately after accumulating 160 innings pitched.

    In the end, the Mets should prevail as a postseason team, whether it be as the NL East division winner or one of the two Wild Card teams.

2. David Wright Will Be the NL MVP

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    Already one of the top NL MVP candidates, David Wright will continue his career season by having a big second half en route to becoming the first Met to ever win the NL MVP Award.

    At the All-Star break, Wright has a .351 average, 11 home runs, 59 RBI, 56 runs scored, 106 hits, 27 doubles and a 1.004 OPS. His average is third in the National League while his RBI total is fifth, and his OPS is third.

    In the second half, it's fair to expect Wright to not maintain his .351 average. However, this doesn't mean it will fall off completely. If he continues to hit well, even on a relatively consistent basis, Wright's average could definitely be above .330 and maybe even in the .340s. Regardless, if Wright does not win the batting title, he should at least finish in the top five.

    Wright's 11 home runs are rather low for him, both within his career and among other MVP candidates. However, Wright is bound to go on a big power streak sometime in the second half and should finish with somewhere between 22-25 home runs, if not more. 30 might be out of the question at this point, but Wright can still hold his own in the power department. He is also six home runs away from 200 for his career.

    Wright should easily get to over 110 RBI at the pace he has been at, especially if he starts hitting a lot more home runs. If that is the case, his OPS will only keep improving.

    The one person that really has gotten in Wright's way of being the NL MVP favorite so far is the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, who has had one heck of a season of his own. While Joey Votto has had the best statistical season of anyone in the league, he does have a solid supporting cast among his Reds' offensive teammates. Wright and McCutchen both do not have another noticeably feared hitter in either of their lineups.

    Statistically, McCutchen is having a better season than Wright, with a league-leading .362 average, 18 home runs and 60 RBI. He is second in the league with a 1.039 OPS as well. As the Pirates try for their first winning season since 1992, McCutchen has been carrying the team on his back without much help, in particular from the Pirates' other hitters.

    The fact that the Pirates have had their 19-year postseason drought, compared to the Mets who are only at a five year postseason drought, is another aspect that puts McCutchen over the top compared to Wright.

    The bottom line is that if only one of the Mets or Pirates end up making the postseason, the star hitter of that team will likely win the 2012 NL MVP Award. In other words, if Wright and the Mets make the postseason and the Pirates do not, Wright would most likely win the MVP and vice-versa. If both teams do get into the postseason though, the player with the better statistics and lesser help from offensive teammates would likely come out on top.

    Due to the Reds being the most solid team in the NL Central and a legitimate World Series contender, it will be tough for the Pirates to maintain their current division lead and keep up with the Reds for the NL Central division title. Thus, if it comes down to the Wild Card race, the Mets would probably have a better shot at getting into the postseason. With the Pirates going to Citi Field in the second-to-last week of the season, those four games could determine the postseason outcome for both teams.

    In the end, the Mets will make the postseason, and the Pirates will fall just short of a Wild Card berth, which would give Wright the ultimate edge as he becomes the 2012 NL MVP.

3. R.A. Dickey Will Win the 2012 NL Cy Young Award

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    The biggest story in baseball this season—without question—has been R.A. Dickey's sensational year. The journeyman knuckleballer is 12-1 on the season with a 2.40 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

    Being a knuckleballer, the wide perception has been that Dickey is overachieving and will not continue to pitch as well in the second half. That point may be reasonable, but over the last two years, Dickey has proven be consistent throughout entire seasons. The numbers may not show everything because, especially in 2011, Dickey did not get great run support. Nonetheless, Dickey's ERA was 2.84 in 2010 and 3.24 in 2011.

    Dickey's only really bad start occurred in April when it was raining in Atlanta, and the knuckleball simply did not have a lot of movement in those conditions. Hopefully Dickey will not have to deal with that in the future and will continue to pitch at an exceptional level.

    If Dickey's pitching stays consistent throughout the entire year, it will be tough for anyone else to be just as worthy as him. Stephen Strasburg's season will get shut down after he throws 160 innings, which will ultimately remove him as a serious Cy Young Award contender. That would leave his teammate Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals and Matt Cain of the Giants as the only other serious Cy Young Award contenders going forward.

    Gonzalez's numbers have been nearly as good as Dickey's numbers, and he will be expected to lead the Nationals' pitching staff once Strasburg gets shut down. Cain though has a very good track record throughout his career and could very well have a great second half as he tries to become the second Giants pitcher to win the NL Cy Young Award within the last five years. His teammate, Tim Lincecum, won the award in both 2008 and 2009.

    As long as Dickey maintains great command of his knuckleball, he will win the 2012 NL Cy Young Award by a good margin.

4. Johan Santana Will Be the 2012 NL Comeback Player of the Year

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    At just 6-5 with a 3.24 ERA at the All-Star break, some would say that Johan Santana's season has not been particularly good. In his case, the numbers do not tell the entire story.

    After missing the entire 2011 season while recovering from shoulder surgery, Santana returned as the Mets' Opening Day starter this year. Many questions involving his health and future going forward appeared, but Santana has proved all his critics wrong by staying healthy and being the solid ace that the Mets have needed. Once again, the Mets' offense has rarely given him good run support, which would explain why his record is where it's currently at.

    And of course, on June 1, Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, which was a moment that every fan has been hoping would happen for years. It took him 134 pitches to complete the effort, which was well beyond any number the Mets could have ever envisioned.

    The fact that so many people doubted Santana going into the season, plus his no-hitter, are two big reasons why Santana will win the 2012 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Assuming he stays healthy of course, Santana should have a strong second half, especially because he is well known for pitching exceptionally well in the second half over the years.

    One example of this could be seen in his 2008 season. Santana did not even make the All-Star team that year due to a decent start to his season. Yet, he had an amazing second half and even pitched a complete-game shutout in the second-to-last game of the season on three day's rest. He ended up third in the 2008 NL Cy Young Award voting. This just shows how dominant Santana has historically been during the second half.

    If Santana does win the award, he will become the second Met to win in the last five years. Former teammate Fernando Tatis won the award in 2008.

5. Terry Collins Will Be the NL Manager of the Year

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    As the awards predictions continue, Terry Collins is as worthy as any manager in the National League of becoming the 2012 NL Manager of the Year.

    The Mets were widely predicted to lose over 100 games, but they have played much better than anyone would have expected. Collins' leadership is a huge reason why they have a winning record right now.

    The Mets' lineup only has one true superstar in David Wright. First baseman Ike Davis got off to a horrendous start and has only recently been hitting well. Left fielder Jason Bay has also continued his struggles and is currently dealing with his second concussion in three years.

    The Mets have also been marred with various injuries, which has led to players like Bay, Ruben Tejada, Andres Torres, Ronny Cedeno, Josh Thole, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez all missing significant time during the first half of the season. Furthermore, Mike Pelfrey is out for the season after recently having Tommy John surgery. As a result, Collins has been challenged to make the most of the players he has, and a good number of the replacement starters have certainly overachieved.

    Managing the innings for Johan Santana has been another challenge in itself because Santana had missed the entire 2011 season. Despite the relative limitations that Collins and the Mets have placed on Santana, Collins thankfully did allow Santana to throw a career-high 134 pitches as he gave the Mets its first no-hitter in franchise history. Had Collins not let Santana finish the game, he would have been widely criticized by many people.

    But what's most important about what Collins has done is that at the beginning of the season, he told his players that they may not be expected to do well, but that they have to do what it takes to prove those expectations wrong. He has believed in his team at all times, and this is what puts him over the top for NL Manager of the Year consideration. His players have followed his lead and are currently six games over .500.

    When Davis struggled mightily during the first two months of the season, Collins faced questions about whether to demote Davis to the minor leagues or not. He decided to keep believing in his first baseman and kept him on the major league roster. Collins' patience paid off as Davis has lately been hitting as well as anyone in the last few weeks and is primed for a huge second half.

    It was no surprise when Tony LaRussa asked Collins to be one of the coaches for the National League team in the All-Star Game; the job that Collins has done for the Mets speaks for itself.

    Collins is not the only manager in contention for this award though. Clint Hurdle of the Pirates, and even former Mets manager Davey Johnson of the Nationals, are in the mix as well. While the Nationals had struggled for years, they were expected to compete this year. The Pirates and Mets on the other hand were not projected to have winning records, but both teams have stunned everyone by playing much better than expected.

    This award between Collins and Hurdle will likely come down to which team makes the postseason. If both teams are in, then the decision will be extremely close.

    If they continue their success, Collins will lead the Mets to their first postseason appearance since 2006, one that the Mets have been striving for ever since their disappointing end to the 2006 postseason. With the Mets getting into the postseason and the Pirates falling just short, Collins will win the 2012 NL Manager of the Year Award.

6.Kirk Nieuwenhuis Will Be in the Top 3 for the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award

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    Although Mets' rookie outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis has not had a spectacular season by any means, the candidates among top National League rookies this year are weak enough that Nieuwenhuis should finish within the top three when the voting is determined.

    Nieuwenhuis was originally not expected to get called up as soon as he did, but after Andres Torres got injured on Opening Day, the Mets called up Nieuwenhuis immediately, and he got off to a great start in April. After Torres returned, Nieuwenhuis has been playing all three outfield positions regularly, but he has sat out most games in which the Mets have faced a left-handed starting pitcher.

    Nieuwenhuis has a .268 average with seven home runs and 25 RBI. His power at first was a bit of a surprise due to Nieuwenhuis not being considered a hitter with much pop in the minor leagues. He became a solid leadoff hitter during the absence of both Torres and shortstop Ruben Tejada. However, he is now in a part-time role and rarely starts against southpaws.

    Besides his struggles against left-handed pitchers, the only other noticeable weakness of Nieuwenhuis' hitting is that he has struck out a lot so far. In 282 at-bats, he already has 85 strikeouts, which comes out to be at slightly over 30 percent of his at-bats. This trend will need to get reversed if Nieuwenhuis wants to have a better second half to his rookie year.

    Defensively, Nieuwenhuis has held his own and has made quite a few great plays in all three outfield positions. He also has good speed and could be a base-stealer in the years to come.

    As far as this current group of National League rookies goes, All-Star Bryce Harper of the Nationals is almost expected to win the award simply because of all the hype and attention he has gotten even before his first game in the major leagues. His numbers will probably improve, and it will be stunning if he does not win the award.

    Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks was another All-Star selection this year and has a great shot at being the runner-up among 2012 National League rookies. The third spot could be a toss-up between Nieuwenhuis, Andrelton Simmons of the Braves and Michael Fiers of the Brewers.

    With Simmons and Fiers not having played for the full season, look for Nieuwenhuis to finish third in the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year award.

7. Ike Davis Will Have a Big Second Half

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    After getting off to a terrible start to his season this year, Ike Davis was batting under .200 until just recently. He has finally broken out of his slump and is primed to have a big second half.

    David Wright can only do so much for the Mets' offense. If the Mets are going to be a postseason team, they will need Davis, among others, to really step up and hit well down the stretch. Despite his .201 average, Davis does have 12 home runs and 49 RBI at the All-Star break. Those numbers could easily turn into 25 home runs and 90 RBI if Davis has a great second half to make up for his horrendous start.

    The Mets expected Davis to be their feared cleanup hitter with a lot of explosive power. He was also expected to hit over 30 home runs and drive in over 110 RBI. Both, of course, are now unlikely to be reachable due to the start he had, but if Davis could have a second half similar to that of Carlos Delgado in 2008, it will help the Mets' chances of contending even more.

    The Mets plan on having Davis as their first baseman for many years. If he wants to show that he is indeed a cornerstone player for this team, a huge second half would be a big start for him. As long as he doesn't fall into another slump and he limits the mental mistakes, Davis should definitely help Wright lead the Mets to the postseason this year.

8. The Mets Will Acquire Huston Street and Carlos Quentin by the Trade Deadline

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    Now that they are serious postseason contenders, the Mets are expected to make at least one trade to boost a few weaknesses. Their biggest weakness by far is their bullpen.

    The Mets' bullpen has been one of the worst units in all of baseball. Closer Frank Francisco has struggled at times, despite having 18 saves. Francisco is now on the disabled list and Bobby Parnell is the current closer. Although Parnell has done well so far, it would be best for the Mets to get a proven veteran closer that will get the job done on a consistent basis.

    Furthermore, if Francisco does not return any time soon, the need for a new closer would be even greater, and when Francisco is healthy, the Mets' bullpen depth will be a lot better down the stretch.

    The best fit for the Mets among all available closers would be Huston Street of the Padres. He will be available and would be the ideal rental closer for the Mets this year. He has pitched in the postseason, has a proven track record and would immediately bring credibility to the entire Mets' bullpen.

    Another need for the Mets is an additional right-handed hitting outfielder. With Jason Bay hurt and struggling like he did in 2010, the only right-handed hitting outfielder the Mets have is Scott Hairston. The Mets have struggled against left-handed hitting starters mostly because they have a lot of left-handed hitters this year.

    The Padres could help the Mets fill this need as well by trading them Carlos Quentin, who has been one of the better outfielders in the past five years. Like Street, Quentin will be a rental player as well, so this would fill an immediate need without having to commit to any long-term contracts.

    The big question though is who the Mets would have to give up in order to acquire both Street and Quentin. With top pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler being virtually untouchable, the Mets would have to come up with a package of other mid-level or top prospects in order to get the trade completed.

    Among major league players, Jordany Valdespin could be an intriguing option. With Daniel Murphy as the starting second baseman, Ruben Tejada as the shortstop and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda and one Andres Torres and Scott Hairston being the everyday outfielders, there really isn't a regular spot for Valdespin. He is a natural second baseman, but with Murphy now the everyday second baseman, the Mets could use Valdespin as a potential trade chip. The Padres could always use more offense.

    As for minor league prospects, Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte, Cesar Puello, Cory Vaughn and Matt den Dekker could all be options to trade, although the Mets would probably not want to part with most, if not all, of these players. However, at least one of them will likely be necessary in order to acquire Street and Quentin.

    On the pitching side, Jeruys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and Darin Gorski could be included in this package. Unfortunately, Familia and Mejia have both had subpar seasons so far, which will likely hurt their trade values.

    By the deadline though, Sandy Alderson will realize just how the close the Mets really are to contending for the postseason and will make a big trade with the team he once worked for in order to get Street and Quentin to the Mets.

9. Chris Young Will Stay Healthy for the Entire Season

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    With Dillon Gee now on the disabled list after having a blood clot removed, the Mets will really need the rest of their rotation to keep pitching well and stay afloat in the division and Wild Card races. No one's role has been affected more now than Chris Young.

    Young has had a history of shoulder injuries over the years, and because of that, he has not pitched a full season since 2007. The Mets will need Young to stay healthy for the rest of the season because he has been doing very well as a fifth starter ever since he made his return in June. Despite faltering in a few recent starts during the later innings, he has kept his team in the game in all of his starts this year. As a result, the Mets will be counting on Young's pitching more than ever before with Gee on the disabled list.

    This season would be the worst time for Young's shoulder to get injured again. If the Mets lose him as well, they will almost likely have no chance of making the postseason. Great teams are led by pitching, and the Mets' rotation has been by far the team's biggest strength this year. If the Mets' starting pitching is full of injuries, that will instantly destroy any legitimate chances of getting to the playoffs.

    Chris Young has suffered enough pain with his right shoulder over the years, so look for him to keep pitching well and remain healthy through October.

10. Matt Harvey Will Make His Professional Debut This Year

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    Matt Harvey, the Mets' 2010 first round draft pick, is now one of the team's top two overall prospects and will be expected to be a co-ace with Zack Wheeler in the future.

    Harvey did not make the Mets' Opening Day roster out of Spring Training and has spent the entire season this year on the Mets' AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. He is 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 98.1 innings pitched.

    Due to his strong season, plus Dillon Gee now on the disabled list, it's very likely that Harvey will make his Mets debut this year. He was almost assuredly going to be a September call-up when the rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players. However, now that Gee might miss more than two weeks, the Mets could end up bringing up Harvey by August if Miguel Batista does not pitch well as a spot starter.

    The Mets have been closely monitoring both Harvey and Wheeler, who is currently on the AA Binghamton Mets. However, Harvey looks like he's just about ready to face major league hitters and could be a great addition to an already strong Mets' rotation.

    Wheeler could even make his debut as a September call-up, but being that he is in AA Binghamton right now, he may not end up getting called-up as the Mets try to not rush him through the system.

    Regardless of what kind of trades the Mets end up making by the deadline, Matt Harvey will make his professional debut this year, likely by sometime in August, if not this month.