5 Critical Components Needed for the Mets to Have a Winning Record in 2013
The past six years have not been particularly good for the Mets. After their most recent trip to the postseason in 2006, where they eventually lost in the NLCS against the Cardinals, the Mets have fallen short of the postseason ever since.
In 2007 (88 wins) and 2008 (89 wins), the Mets played very well overall, but two poor Septembers in both years cost them trips to the postseason. In 2009, Citi Field opened up, but that did not help the Mets get any better. In fact, they played a lot worse.
After a 72-90 season in 2009 that was full of injuries all over the team, the Mets went 79-83 in 2010, 77-85 in 2011 and 74-88 in 2012. In the past four years, the Mets have had relatively inconsistent starting pitching, untrustworthy bullpens and lineups that simply were not able to score too many runs.
The team this year will not look too different from the 2012 squad. Regardless, it's possible that with a few new faces and a more consistent season, the Mets could possibly take a big step forward and finish with a winning record.
Here are five components that could be critical in order for the Mets to possibly get between 82-85 wins, which is a reasonable goal to set.
1. No More 2nd-Half Collapses
Even though the Mets have not done particularly well in the last four years, the first halves of those seasons have certainly been better than after the All-Star break. Fatigue could have possibly affected the Mets in the second half, but nonetheless, it's clear that the Mets have run out of gas down the stretch, which is not a good trait for a team that is trying to win.
The 2009 Mets went 42-45 before the All-Star break, but stumbled to a 28-46 record in the second half to finish with just 70 wins and their first season of 90 or more losses since 2003.
The 2010 Mets had a 48-40 record going into the All-Star break, while their second half record was an inconsistent 30-44. In 2011, the Mets had a 46-45 record in the first half, but once again slipped after the break going 31-40. In 2012, the Mets started off 46-39, but went just 28-47 the rest of the way to fall out of postseason contention very quickly.
The fact that the Mets are a rather young team and not playing too well in the second half in recent years is not good. Young players should not be getting so tired down the stretch, and it's possible that better conditioning and healthier lifestyles off the field could make a big difference in the future.
If the Mets can play a little more consistently after the All-Star break, it could make a huge difference in the end.
2. Some Sort of Production from the Outfield
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In 2012, the Mets got almost no production from their outfield, aside from Scott Hairston, who is now with the Cubs. Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis were both inconsistent, while Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin did not produce enough to be viewed as everyday starting outfielders.
This year, the Mets will need Duda to turn out a consistently productive season if they want to score more runs. Duda had just 15 home runs and 57 RBI in 2012, but 20-25 home runs and over 80 RBI would be great for someone with Duda's size, strength and potential. After his adventures last year in right field, Duda is slated to become the Mets' starting left fielder this year.
As for Nieuwenhuis, he had a great first half last season, but did not hit as well after the All-Star break. Plate discipline was an issue for him, with almost one strikeout in every three at-bats. A platoon in center field between Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill could be better than some may expect.
Right field could be patrolled by one of Baxter, Valdespin or Marlon Byrd. Valdespin and Byrd have both hit very well in spring training, but all three will get significant time in the outfield at some point.
All in all, the Mets' outfield is a work in progress, but more consistent production could help their offense tremendously. There is only so much that David Wright and Ike Davis can do on a daily basis.
3. A Consistently Strong Rotation
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Without R.A. Dickey's presence atop the Mets' rotation, the team will have to rely on their other starters to carry them to hopefully more success.
Jon Niese will be more or less the de facto ace this year, with Matt Harvey now playing a much more critical role in the rotation. Johan Santana and Dillon Gee will anchor the back end of the rotation, while newcomer Shaun Marcum will hopefully eat innings and pitch like he did in 2010 and 2011 when he won 13 games in each of the two seasons.
The big question is when the team will call up top prospect Zack Wheeler. The answer is yet to be determined, but it could possibly occur by May or June, depending on the overall state of the Mets' rotation.
If any injuries occur, Jeremy Hefner could make spot starts for a short while, with Collin McHugh and Jenrry Mejia available as two other options. The Mets will likely promote Wheeler when they feel confident enough in his ability to handle the major leagues. Injuries, however, will certainly play a role in the actual timing itself.
Last season, the Mets' rotation was their biggest strength. Dickey, of course, won 20 games and the NL Cy Young Award, but Niese had his best season yet with 13 wins and a 3.40 ERA. Harvey's late season call-up was also very impressive and his future will only get better.
This year, the Mets will need the rotation to carry them again because certain portions of the lineup and bullpen are still rather shaky. Plainly put, their biggest strength needs to be even better for the 2013 season.
4. A Much Improved Bullpen
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With the second worst bullpen ERA in the National League a year ago, the bullpen is one area that the Mets had to improve this offseason. While the additions of Brandon Lyon and the return of Pedro Feliciano could improve the Mets' in the middle relief and late innings, it's the closing role that has made the biggest change thus far into spring training.
The Mets' 2012 closer, Frank Francisco, has had an injured elbow throughout spring training and will be doubtful at best for Opening Day. As a result, Bobby Parnell is now the team's closer.
Parnell might just be the temporary closer for now, but if he pitches well, the Mets will most likely keep him as the closer for the entire season and possibly beyond. Parnell has certainly earned his opportunity to prove himself as a full-time closer, despite not being particularly consistent in the role for part of the 2012 season.
Assuming Parnell pitches well as a closer, once Francisco is healthy, he will most likely return to the bullpen as a middle reliever or set-up man. Francisco's 2012 season was very inconsistent and was highlighted by his career high 5.53 ERA.
Francisco's injury obviously isn't good for him, but it could become a blessing in disguise for the Mets if Parnell excels as the new closer.
5. Play Well Against Divisional Opponents
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The Mets play in the NL East, which is arguably the toughest division in the National League. The Nationals and Braves are currently two powerhouse teams and the Phillies were certainly a powerhouse of their own from 2007-2011.
Being that the Mets will play those three teams and the Marlins more often than anyone else, it's critical that they play particularly well in those games to have a shot at the postseason. In fact, the Mets will play 72 of their 162 games against NL East teams, almost half of their total games.
Last year, the Mets didn't play too well against their NL East competitors. They went 4-14 against the Nationals, 6-12 against the Braves, 10-8 against the Phillies and 12-6 against the Marlins. The winning records against the Phillies and Marlins were good, but the Phillies were not quite consistently good themselves, while the Marlins simply stunk.
The 10-26 combined record against the Nationals and Braves was simply unacceptable, regardless of how much better both teams were compared to them. The Mets may be on the rise to seriously compete in the near future, but dealing with the Nationals and Braves will not be easy at all. Both teams are young, talented and have a lot of depth in their lineups, starting rotations and bullpens.
Each and every game the Mets play matters the same in the end, but with the Nationals and Braves being the their top competition going forward, it's imperative that they play a lot better against those two teams if they even want a chance to compete for the NL East division title. It will not be easy, but on any given day, a win is always possible.