Avid readers of this sports column know I’m a diehard New York Mets fan. It’s simply in my blood.
So what better way to ring in the start of spring training than hearing from a few diocesan priests who share my fandom?
The Mets enter the 2019 campaign as a much-improved squad but still with a few major question marks. New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been a breath of fresh air – bringing confidence and class to the organization fresh off a disappointing fourth-place N.L. East finish in 2018 under first-year manager Mickey Callaway.
This offseason, the team added four former All-Stars – infielder Robinson Canó, infielder Jed Lowrie, catcher Wilson Ramos and relief pitcher Edwin Diaz – as well as reunited with All-Star reliever Jeurys Familia. Van Wagenen also bolstered the team’s depth, which is essential for a grueling 162-game season.
“So far so good,” said Father Bill Sweeney, pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor. “Everybody seems to be healthy. As long as they’re healthy, we’ll be good, but it all depends on the health. With the Mets, it seems they get hurt before everything starts. If they stay healthy, they’ll be fine, and we’ll do well.”
“I’m more optimistic going into this season than last,” said Father Jim Devlin, pastor emeritus at Good Shepherd, Marine Park. “I think their lineup is a lot better and a lot deeper. We’ll see what happens. The key was that they had to generate more offense, that’s for sure. If they could score some more runs, maybe they can win some more games.”
As has been the case in the franchise’s nearly 60-year history, pitching is this team’s strength. Reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom leads a talented young staff including Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. Diaz, who led all of baseball with 57 saves last season, will take over as the team’s closer.
“It’s all pitching right now,” said Father Ed Kachurka, pastor of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann, Flushing. “If we can scrap a few runs together and if our pitching staff can hold leads and keep us in games, we’re going to be very good this year.”
Pacing the offense will be young outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Canó, Ramos and Lowrie will also be expected to carry the load offensively, as shortstop Amed Rosario continues to develop into an all-around hitter.
One glaring omission from the Mets’ lineup will be slugging outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, who is recovering from surgery on both his heels. In an ideal world, Céspedes returns healthy right after the All-Star break to give the Amazins’ an offensive jolt down the stretch.
Unfortunately though, the world is not perfect. Between injury risks and what some would call questionable moves, not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of optimism.
“They’re spending all that money on Canó…is that really where we need to spend money?” said Msgr. David Cassato, pastor at St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst. “He’s 36. How much more does he have left?”
It was a puzzling move indeed, especially since Jeff McNeil, who hit .329 while playing an excellent second base in the second half of last season, will now serve predominantly as an outfielder. Van Wagenen though was willing to take on Canó’s contract if that meant getting the young closer Diaz.
Despite the roster improvements, there are still a lot of “ifs.” Given recent history, it’s highly unlikely that all four of their top young pitchers make 30-plus starts apiece.
“Matz and Syndergaard are the keys,” Father Devlin said. “I think Wheeler is steady and so is deGrom, but are they going to win if one of those guys goes down? Probably not.”
The Mets were scorching hot out of the gate to start last season, finishing at 15-9 overall after April. However, a 5-21 month of June – very reminiscent of the hapless, “Lovable-Loser” 1962 Mets – derailed what could have been a competitive season.
“I’m a little confused,” Msgr. Cassato said. “I’m looking at it and saying it’s probably going to be a lot like last year. Last year it ended honorably; it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t like what the expectations were. I’m not building up any expectations this year.”
The N.L. East will certainly be a tough challenge this season, with the reigning division champion Atlanta Braves, the improved Philadelphia Phillies and the always tough Washington Nationals. As good as the Mets might look on paper, you have to go out there and play the games.
If a few huge components fall into place and if deGrom dominates once again and if Céspedes returns healthy and productive, 2019 will be a fun year at Citi Field in Flushing.
“I think the Mets have a good chance of making a run here,” Father Kachurka said. “If we stay healthy, we’ll be fine. I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to the season starting.”
“It’s going to be a good year, but I’m also the eternal optimist,” Father Sweeney said. “It’s the beginning of spring training. Everybody’s in first place; everybody’s optimistic. I can’t wait!”
Right now, I’m also an eternal optimist. But talk to me in October to see how those major “ifs” actually turned out for the 2019 New York Mets.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.