5 Keys for the New York Mets to Be a Contender Next Season

Vinny Messana@v1nsaneCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2012

5 Keys for the New York Mets to Be a Contender Next Season

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    When it comes to consistency, the New York Mets rarely disappoint. That is not to say they are consistently successful.

    Four consecutive years, the Mets have sabotaged their seasons with dreadful second-half performances, effectively draining any playoff hopes prior to the beginning of  the NFL preseason.

    In terms of next year, the Mets do have hope.

    They have plenty of young players that should be the core of their team once they are perennial playoff contenders, such as Matt Harvey and Ruben Tejada.

    The Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles also should provide hope for the team that will enter the season with a dwindling fanbase.

    Here are five keys for the 2013 season in order for the Mets to be contenders.

The Starting Pitching Must Be the Focal Point

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    The Mets starting rotation was very solid in 2012, obviously led by the much-ballyhooed dominance of R.A. Dickey.

    Not to be overlooked, however, was the solid season of Jon Niese, who finally put together a consistent year from start to finish.

    The 25-year-old lefty rectified the contract extension the Mets dished out to him, providing 190 innings of 3.40 ERA and strong peripherals.

    Of course, there was the rookie phenom Matt Harvey who dominated the National League to the tune of a 2.70 ERA and 10.67 K/9 IP.

    It is unfair to predict equal or better results from all of these arms, but they will enter the season with the starting pitching as their foundation—assuming all of those arms are still in uniform in 2013.

    In order to carry this team's dismal offense, which finished 25th in runs scored, the rotation must be formidable.

There Must Be Drastic Improvements from the Bullpen

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    The Mets narrowly missed out on being the worst statistical bullpen in the big leagues.

    Nevertheless, they were maddeningly inconsistent, and they had no stability in the back end with Frank Francisco, professional chair thrower, leading the pack of clowns.

    They do have some hard throwers that have the potential to be pieces to the puzzle such as Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin, but they must have a dominant back-end-of-the-bullpen pitcher that they have lacked since Billy Wagner.

    This will be the biggest key for the Mets next season; they cannot have another disaster year for the bullpen.

    Collins may not be the perfect manager, but he he has his hands tied when nobody is capable of making pitches in big spots.

The Level of Production in the Outfield

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    Who would have thought that Sandy Alderson's most significant free-agent acquisition would have been signing journeyman outfielder Scott Hairston in January of 2011?

    Without him, the Mets outfield would have been even more inept, if that's possible.

    Hairston provided 20 home runs and a legitimate power threat to a lineup that was devoid of right-handed power otherwise.

    Jason Bay was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, providing a 47 (!) OPS+.

    Mike Baxter, Andres Torres, Kirk Niuewenhuis and Lucas Duda composed the rest of the outfield, which equaled Miguel Cabrera's home run output of the season.

    While the 2000 Mets were famous for their outfield ineptness, they at least overcame their deficiency with positive contributions in terms of small ball, notably Timo Perez.

    This outfield was dreadful, and they simply must acquire an established home run hitter, whether it be via trade (perhaps Justin Upton), or the free-agent market (perhaps his brother).

    Sandy Alderson has stated they do not have much flexibility in terms of payroll yet, which means he will be forced to get creative with finding the outfield pop.

Figure out the NL East Elite

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    The Mets compiled a 32-40 record against their NL East opponents in 2012. That is a poor record, but their record against the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves was especially abysmal.

    Losing 14 of 18 games against a divisional opponent is not a recipe for success. The Nationals are a fundamentally sound team, with a terrific starting staff and a deep bullpen, as well as a patient lineup that forced opponents into mistakes.

    Previously the laughingstock of the National League just two years ago, the Nationals are suddenly more formidable to the Mets than the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies that caused the downward spiral of the Mets in the first place.

    The Atlanta Braves also defeated the Mets 12 times in 18 matchups. The Braves have long been the primary rival of the Mets, but that has since lessened after the Bobby Valentine era.

    Playing one-third of the regular season games against the NL East means that it could derail a team's season.

    The NL East is, and will to continue to be, a tough division. The Mets must find a way to compete with the upper echelon teams in order to stay competitive for a full season.

Can They Avoid a Second-Half Collapse for Once in Citi Field History?

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    Everyone will remember the final days of the '07 and '08 seasons in which the Mets coughed away sizable leads in the NL East, and Shea Stadium turned into a funeral parlor.

    Despite not being nearly as publicized, the Mets have been even worse in the four years of Citi Field's existence.

    What was supposed to be a fresh start for the embattled franchise has turned out to be anything but. The best times of Shea trump the highlights of Citi Field thus far.

    This season the Mets won 28 second-half games, which followed a feel-good first half which had die-hard fans dreaming of potential Division Series matchups between Dickey and Matt Cain.

    Is this simply a matter of a mediocre team falling down to Earth? Or perhaps a manager losing the respect of his players?

    In any event, Sandy Alderson must pinpoint the root of the problem and make the roster adjustments accordingly.

    Follow me on Twitter to debate all things Mets: @V1nsane