METS STILL TEAM TO BEAT

While most observers are calling the American League Division races wide open for the coming season with no clear favorite in any division, the National League East race appears to be easier to call. Of course, with a 162 game season ahead of us, anything can and probably will happen to upset anyone choices.

From my perspective, the National League East winner should easily be last year’s National League World Series representative, the New York Mets. The Mets may have the best young pitching staff in baseball, barring injury or some other problem.

The Mets announced today that Matt Harvey would miss his last scheduled start of Spring Training on Tuesday and might not be available for opening night against the Royals because of an undisclosed medical problem, unrelated to his arm, that he was going to see doctor about. The Mets refused comment other than to say that the problem was not related to his arm. He had Tommy John Surgery last year but seemed to have recovered from that well.

Assuming that that Harvey’s problem becomes a non-issue, they have the 26 year old back. He went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA last year, and they also have Jacob deGrom, 27, 14-8, with a 2.54 ERA and Noah Syndergaard, 23, 9-7, with a 3.24 ERA at the top of the rotation. With one week to go in Spring Training, Harvey had pitched seven innings, given up just one run and had a 1.29 ERA, Syndergaard had pitched 17 2/3 innings, had a 2.04 ERA and had 19 strikeouts, while de Grom had gone 16 2/3 innings with a 1.62 ERA.

They also have Steven Matz, 24, their only lefty starter,who came up late in the season and won four without a loss in six starts with a 2.27 ERA and Zack Wheeler, 25, who is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in mid season, and was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 2014. Matz gave up five runs in the second inning against the Yankees last Tuesday, but came back to get the last eight batters in order while going four innings.

Then there’s the ageless Bartolo Colon, 42, who was 14-13 last year who will be the number 4 or 5 starter at least until Wheeler is ready. Colon had his problems over the first part of spring training, giving up 13 runs in 11 2/3 innings but had10 strikeouts. This past Wednesday, he got it right against the hard hitting Toronto Blue Jays, Colon went six scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and striking out four while walking no one looking much younger. Today, he went six innings against the Cardinals, giving up three runs on seven hits and striking out five.

Their Closer Jeurys Familia, 26, had 43 saves in 48 attempts last year with a 1.85 ERA, appearing in 76 games and didn’t give up a run in his first seven appearances this spring, throwing seven innings and getting eight strikeouts. He hads a bad outing on Friday, giving up three runs on four hits to the Cardinals but came right back with a 1-2-3 inning two days later against the Nats.

They were able to bring back Free Agent Yoenis Cespedes to play center field. Cespedes, 30, who came over from Detroit in mid season last year and hit a combined .291 with 35 homers and 105 RBI’s between the two teams, while playing 159 games, gives their offense power in the middle. They have 35 year old Curtis Granderson, who hit .259 with 26 homer and 70 RBI’s out of the leadoff spot, in right.

Michael Conforto, 23, is expected to start in left. He hit .270 with 9 homers in just 56 games as a rookie last year. Juan LaGares, who hit .259 and played in 114 games last year and Alejandro DeAza, who came over from the Giants after spending time with Baltimore and Boston last year and hitting .262, will give Conforto some competition and also provide some outfield depth.

The infield, will have 30 year old Lucas Duda, .244 with 27 homers and 73 RBI’s, at first, Neil Walker, .267 with 16 homers and 71 RBI’S at second, Steven Wright, 33, at third, if he stays healthy, is a .299 career hitter coming off a bad year with multiple injuries, and Wilmer Flores, 24, who hit .263 with 16 homers and 59 RBI’s, at short. Overall, the Mets finished 12th in baseball in fielding percentage last year and this infield hits with the best of them.

Behind the plate will be 27 year old Travis D’Arnaud, who hit .268 with 12 homers and 41 RBI’s in 67 games last year. He will be backed up by Kevin Plawecki, who hit just .219 in 73 games last year.

Addison Reed, 27, who came over from Arizona during the season last year and pitched in 55 games between the two, appeared in 17 games for the Mets with a 1.17 ERA, is back, as is 25 year old Hansel Robles, who was in 57 games with a 3.67 ERA.

Antonio Bastardo, a 30 year old lefty, who was in 66 games, pitching 57 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 2.98 ERA with Pittsburgh last year and 27 year old Erik Goeddel, who was in 35 games with a 2.43 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched will help out in the pen.

Jerry Blevins, who came over from Washington last year and suffered a broken arm, only getting into seven games, is expected to be back. He has a career 3.53 ERA.

Overall, Manager Terry Collins has a young team with plenty of pitching talent and a potent offense that should win the relatively weak National League East.

The other two National League Divisions look like better races. In the Central, Theo Epstein’s Cubs, led by the best Manager in baseball, Joe Maddon, have loaded up, adding John Lackey, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, but may have a hard time getting by the Cardinals now that Adam Wainwright is back from Tommy John surgery and Yadier Molina appears to have recovered completely from two surgeries on his thumb this winter.

In the West, the San Francisco Giants, after picking up Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to strengthen their rotation, could continue their streak and go all the way for the fourth even numbered year in a row. They can expect some competition from the Los Angeles Dodgers and maybe even the San Diego Padres.

I have to stick with the Mets to go all the way though, despite the fact that I will be rooting for the Cubs because I still think that a Red Sox and Cubs series would be the classic, played at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. It couldn’t get any better than that.

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