To be a New York Mets fan, one must live by this simple mantra:
Every year is going to be THE year!
With another Spring Training upon us, hope springs eternal for the Metropolitans. As I always do, I caught up with a few diehard Mets-fan priests of the diocese to gauge their expectations heading into a new season.
The Mets captured many headlines this offseason, but the move that generated the most buzz came in the front office. Billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen is the team’s new owner, and in addition to deep financial pockets, he’s bringing a renewed sense of joy to the fanbase.
“It’s going to be a good season just due to the fact that we have new owners,” said Father Ed Kachurka, pastor of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann, Flushing. “There’s a much more positive feeling and attitude with the new owner.”
“Hopefully it’s a sign of a new era,” said Father Pat West, pastor of St. Sebastian, Woodside. “Everything is hopeful. It’s not just new ownership, it’s also new leadership. There’s a fresh perspective and a shot of adrenaline into the team.”
On paper, the team looks much improved, thanks in large part to a blockbuster offseason trade with the Cleveland Indians that netted the Amazins’ all-world shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
Lindor is a top-10 talent in the game who’s known as “Mr. Smile” due to his fun-loving personality. As a switch-hitter, he’ll be a table setter atop a potent Mets lineup.
“He (Lindor) showed in Cleveland that he can handle everything,” said Father Bill Sweeney, pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor. “Everyone is asking how’s he going to handle New York. I said I wonder how New York is going to handle Lindor. He showed up in Spring Training with blue hair because he wants to show that he’s part of the team!”
Lindor will be joined on the infield by slugging first baseman Pete Alonso, scrappy second baseman Jeff McNeil and fan-favorite third baseman J.D. Davis. The Mets also filled a huge hole in the lineup — both offensively and defensively — by signing All-Star catcher James McCann.
In the outfield, budding superstar right fielder Michael Conforto will be joined by Dominic Smith in left field and Brandon Nimmo in center field. Outfield defense could be an area of concern, since Smith is actually a first baseman and Nimmo profiles more as a left fielder than a center fielder. Yet what these players can provide offensively will make the defensive gamble worth the risk.
Pitching is the name of the game, and the Mets employ the best in the business with Jacob deGrom. There’s only so long a pitcher can be as dominant as deGrom, and while he’s shown no signs of slowing down, the time for this team to win is right now.
Joining deGrom in the starting rotation will be Carrasco, a solid starter in Cleveland the past few seasons; Long Island native Marcus Stroman, who opted out last year due to COVID-19 safety concerns; and newly signed Taijuan Walker, a right-hander with lots of upside. Lurking in the weeds is Noah Syndergaard, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is expected to join the club this summer.
As is the case with many teams, the bullpen can make or break a season. The Mets already will be without star reliever Seth Lugo for the beginning of the season. Trevor May was a nice addition from the Minnesota Twins, and if Edwin Díaz can regain his form from his days as a Seattle Mariner, that would be a big plus.
It will be tough to consistently rely on Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia in high-leverage situations, but at least one of them needs to prove that he can be a reliable late-inning arm. Betances is working his way back from injury, yet he’s not too far removed from being one of the game’s most dominant relievers with the New York Yankees.
“If you look at the last couple of years, I’ve said the same thing: It all depends on who gets hurt,” Father Sweeney said.
The National League East is arguably the toughest division in baseball heading into 2021. The Atlanta Braves are the reigning division champions, with the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies primed for success. Even the Miami Marlins — who typically get written off — might be in the mix, given that they were a playoff team just last year.
There seems to be a consensus among these priests. You could call it a “cautious optimism.” However, until the Mets consistently prove that they can beat the Braves, it’s hard to pick them as the class of the division.
“If we score runs and we pitch well and nobody gets hurt, I say we’re going to come in second place in the division,” Father Kachurka said. “We’ll get the Wild Card, and then they’ll move ahead. As in any sport, any team can win on any day.”
Sure there are plenty of “ifs” heading into the season for the Mets, but that’s what makes being a Mets fan so exciting. If the “ifs” actually happen, 2021 will be a memorable year for the Metsies!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.