New York Mets: 10 Things They Must Do to Contend in the NL East Next Season

Vinny MessanaCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2012

New York Mets: 10 Things They Must Do to Contend in the NL East Next Season

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    If the Mets switched their performance in the first half with that of the second half, there would have been a very unpleasant All-Star break.

    Then again, the remainder of the season was not very pleasant so does it make any difference?

    Regardless, the Mets are a light year out of first place for the fourth consecutive season and there needs to be an improvement next season or the remaining fan base will continue to dwindle until it's just the families of the players.

    Here are 10 things the team must do in 2013 to contend.

10. Sustain Their First-Half Ability to Hit with Runners in Scoring Position

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    Throughout the first half of the season the Mets were far and away the best team in the majors in terms of hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Some people argued that it was a product of clutch and mental toughness, whereas I argued that it was primarily luck in a small sample size.

    Well, it appears it was luck, indeed, considering their offense has been abysmal at times since the start of July.

    For a team that does not possess many powerful bats or speed threats, the runs need to come from clutch and timely hitting.

    It is no surprise that the offense bottomed out as they stopped their other-worldly production.

    If they do not possess a legitimate power threat, they will again rely on clutch hitting next season but it will need to be sustained through out the season.

9. Sign a Dominating Closer in the Winter, Demote Francisco to the 7th Inning

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    Most baseball purists find it hard to be impressed by closers in general. They represent the softening of the relief pitcher position, because they generally enter the game with nobody on base and a three-run lead.

    Frank Francisco has  converted all but three of those types of opportunities, but had been dreadful in virtually every other scenario.

    The closer with a 5.36 ERA and 1.59 WHIP is an enigma to say the least, and should not enter next season as the closer.

    If the team is unable to move his $6.5 million contract--which would not surprise me--he should at least be demoted to 7th inning duties.

    Jon Rauch has proven that he is a capable 8th inning reliever. He limits base runners and prevents runs, his only achilles heel was his penchant for late-inning home runs but that has leveled off since.

    In the event that Matt Capps completely heals from his rotator cuff injury, he should be available in the off season for a reasonable price.

    His ability to throw strikes and consistently limit base runners would bode well for future performance and would be a welcome addition to the Mets' club.

8. Ike Davis of Second-Half, David Wright of First-Half

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    It is no secret that David Wright has been a streaky hitter through out his career. That is not a problem in itself, considering very few hitters can avoid prolonged slumps during a season, but it is a problem when the offense is extremely dependent on him.

    He began the season on an unsustainable .389 clip during April which later decreased significantly.

    He posted a slash line of .272/.361/.359 in August.

    Clearly, Wright was not going to maintain a .415 batting average, but the Mets cannot survive if he struggles for an extended time, unless someone else can carry the load.

    That someone else could be Ike Davis.

    He is another streaky hitter, and his season has been the polar opposite of Wright.

    Davis' season began 0-for-15 and was miserable through out much of the first half. In May, he hit .154 with a .496 OPS which put him on the verge of a Triple-A demotion.

    Since then he has been much more productive. Davis has posted a respectable power numbers but he must limit the strikeouts if he is to improve his batting average and OBP in the future.

    These are the two biggest power threats in the lineup and the Mets really need them to post their best seasons if they are to contend.

7. Johan Must Be Effective for a Full Season

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    Since coming to the Mets in February of 2008, Johan has shown glimpses of his greatness, but has been plagued with injuries during that time. He has not come close to pitching in a full season since 2010 and has not finished a season healthy since 2008.

    Santana has proven he is a competitor and he can win without his best velocity due to his poise and command of his off-speed pitches. On the other hand, for a pitcher that is due to make $31 million in 2013, the Mets would sure love for him to contribute for an entire season.

    Is he capable of completing a full season anymore? The jury is out on that, and I would be inclined to say no. If Santana can pitch the way he did through June, but stay on the mound for at least 25 starts, he will have tremendous value to the team.

    Coming off his worst professional season, the doubts are legitimate, but Santana has proven to thrive off prognosticators during his career.

6. Or Someone Must Dominate in His Place

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    While it may seem like the Mets are extremely deep in the rotation, how much of that is quality? Even if the Mets are able to re-sign R.A Dickey, they have a collection of unproven commodities such as Matt Harvey and Collin McHugh and pitchers that have histories of injury, such as Chris Young.

    It is not out of the realm of possibility that the rotation could become the strength of the team, but it will take a number of pieces to fall into place.

    With a healthy Johan, the Mets have a bona-fide ace anchoring the staff and the youngsters have time to develop. But in the event that he is not the Johan of '08-'10, the team needs someone else to provide quality innings.

    Is it more likely to come from a veteran such as Chris Young or a prospect such as Zack Wheeler?

    Judging by his 2012 minor league statistics and his raw ability, Zack Wheeler has all the makings of a future star. If he is able to make a smooth transition to the big leagues, he has the potential to be a tremendous asset for this club and soften the blow of a Johan Santana loss.

5. Find a Way to Beat Washington

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    It's hard to believe, but the Mets have lost 12 of their 16 meetings with the Washington Nationals this season.

    Yes, the Nationals are among the best teams in baseball but it was just last season they finished under .500 and two seasons ago they were a 90 loss team.

    The intimidating part of the Nationals is that they have a young nucleus of players that will be around for a very long time and they happen to dominate the Mets routinely.

    The Nats play in a large ballpark and they seem to have tailored their team to win in the stadium, while the Mets struggle to execute the "small ball" aspects of the game. If the Mets can construct a team that thrives in one-run ballgames which feature high-pressure situations then they can compete with the Nationals.

    While it would not have seemed possible just two seasons ago, the Nationals are the class of the NL East and the Mets need to figure out the secret to beating Davey Johnson's group of youngsters.

4. Strong Defense Up the Middle

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    There has been a huge emphasis on run prevention in the big leagues during the post-steroid era. Teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays made significant improvements from one year to the next primarily through fielding an efficient defensive club which had a high percentage of converting batted balls into outs.

    This Mets team does not boast a team with great defensive prowess, and that must change entering 2013.

    The most important defensive positions are up-the-middle—catcher, second base, shortstop and center field.

    Catcher Josh Thole has a decent .991 fielding percentage, but has allowed 16 passed balls and has only thrown out 24% of attempted base stealers. For those who want to point out that he must deal with Dickey's knuckleball, consider that he has only thrown three wild pitches all season.

    Daniel Murphy has done a commendable job at second base this season while learning a new position, but his 15 errors is very high and the front office must decide whether he is the long-term option at the position.

    Ruben Tejada has flashed his brilliance at shortstop and appears to have the skill set to remain there for the duration of his career.

    In center, Andres Torres has done a decent job but he will probably not be retained for next season. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will likely be the starter.

    He displayed an advanced feel for the position and was able to cover the immense space in the Citi Field gaps.

    Defense will be valued greatly in order for the Mets to cover up their mediocre offense.

3. Production from the Outfield

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    In this era which has featured dominant pitching, a decline in power and a sub 1.000 OPS potentially leading the league, teams rely on their corner outfielders for the bulk of their power.

    This year, the Mets have not been carried by the production of their corner outfielders.

    Scott Hairston has been a terrific bat off the bench, but is certainly not a starter. If they can acquire a power-hitter to play right field then he can return to his natural role as a late-inning pinch-hitter and the team will benefit greatly from that.

    Lucas Duda has provided 13 home runs, but given the glimpses of greatness he showed in 2011, that is a bit of a disappointment.

    The team has not given up on Duda, but at 26-years-old he might not have the ceiling that the organization had hoped for him.

    Obviously, Jason Bay, the $66 million man occupying left field, has been an unmitigated disaster, but there is virtually no way the Mets can rid themselves of that contract without taking on an equally disastrous one. If he can provide some sort of rejuvenated performance that would be a plus, but it appears Terry Collins is set on limiting his usage to only facing left-handed pitchers

    Basically, if the Mets can acquire a bat such as Corey Hart they can help their team in two ways. First, they will receive much better production in the middle of the order than they have. Secondly, it would enable Hairston to become one of the most devastating right-handed bats off the bench in the National League.

    Center field is not as much of an offensive position, so if the Mets can at least receive positive defense from Kirk Nieuwenhuis or someone else then it will not be a disaster.

2. Solidify the Bullpen

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    Thanks to a recent run of success, the Mets are no longer statistically the worst bullpen in the major leagues.

    Now they have shot up to 29th.

    While bullpens have proven to be unpredictable year-to-year, the team can stockpile strike-throwers who limit base runners which is much more conducive to success. This means that only Jon Rauch, Josh Edgin and Bobby Parnell have earned spots for next season with Robert Carson having an advantage for possessing above-average velocity from the left side.

    Bottom line is that the Mets' starting pitchers do not consistently pitch deep enough in games to have a patchwork bullpen.

    The 2006 club possessed a phenomenal bullpen featuring several different looks, that is a great model to base the 2013 club on.

1. Avoid Miserable Losing Streaks

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    This may sound like a matter of luck, as every team will likely suffer through a four or five game losing streak at some point over a 162-game season, but it's much different when you follow up a five-game losing streak with a six-game losing streak as they did in July.

    That is the type of season-killing slump that has plagued the team in recent years.

    Unless you can play .650 baseball for the rest of the season, a team cannot overcome that type of stretch.

    If the Mets could just have one great month of 20 or more wins and five months of .500 baseball then they could challenge for first-place in a division that will most likely not feature a 100-win team.

    The dreadful, gut-wrenching, season-ending losing streaks must not occur in 2013.