Morse: Mets can surprise the National League

Ken Morse

Ken Morse

The opening of the Major League Baseball season is fast approaching and this is the first of a series of columns detailing what is in store for our three local teams.

Mets fans may be in for a glorious ride to the playoffs this summer. I know it’s been a while since New York played a meaning game in October, going all the way back to 2006. But in my estimation the Mets have all the tools in the shed to be the surprise team in the National League this year.

Last season the Mets turned a few heads, pulling into the All-Star break just 4 ½ games off the NL East lead. Then the bullpen unraveled as New York began the second half 2-13 and finished 28-48 over the final 2 ½ months.

The 74-88 record (24 games out) left Mets fans forgetting all about the success they had in the first half. The water cooler in the bullpen should have been replaced with a fire extinguisher.

But general manager Sandy Alderson addressed that issue in the offseason, bringing in Brandon Lyon from the Blue Jays, Scott Atchison from the Red Sox and LaTroy Hawkins from the Angels. Each of the three had ERAs in the threes compared to the 5.70 the bullpen managed last season.

Bullpen coach Ricky Bones should sleep a little better with a shored-up pen. Frank Francisco needs to improve upon the shell-shocked 5.53 ERA he put up last season to complete the turnaround. Bobby Parnell was solid all year and youngster Josh Edgin showed great promise.

The Mets did trade away Cy Young winner RA Dickey but the rotation looks strong with several young arms, the addition of Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana showing flashes of brilliance last year, throwing three shutouts in June along with the first no-hitter in franchise history.

Left-hander Jon Niese put up a 13-9 record with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts last year. Dillon Gee has strung together two solid seasons and rookie Matt Harvey went 3-5 with a 2.72 ERA.

Harvey tossed four-plus innings of no-hit ball his last time out this spring, Gee threw a one-hitter over four innings and Marcum went four innings of one-hit shutout baseball. Pitching looks to be the Mets’ strong suit heading into the season.

The Mets’ offense didn’t exactly rip the cover off the ball last year but was OK with a lot of young faces in the lineup. Manager Terry Collins, in his last year of his contract, will certainly be looking to see some improvement from this year’s batting order.

New York stayed in the hunt over the first half last year by compiling an ML-best 187 runs with two outs, helping earn 17 comeback victories. Pitching wins pennants, anyway. Just ask the 1969 Mets, who won the World Series with Tommie Agee leading the team in home runs (26), RBI (76) and runs (97). That’s not a whole lot of offense but the Amazins got it done.

First baseman Ike Davis led the team last year with 32 homers while third baseman David Wright led the team in average (.306), RBI (93) and runs scored (91) to go along with 21 homers.

Shortstop Ruben Tejada hit .289 in 114 games and second baseman Dan Murphy batted .291 with 166 hits, second-most on the team. Outfielders Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter showed a little power and some consistent two-out hitting. The addition of catcher John Buck adds another sturdy bat in the lineup.

The Mets will also host the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. If you were wondering, only eight teams have hosted an All-Star Game and advanced to the World Series, and only the 1939 Yankees and the 1959 Dodgers went on to win the championship.

This will be the second time the Mets have hosted the Midsummer Classic; the first time was in 1962 at Shea Stadium when New York logged a 53-109 record. I wouldn’t bet on the same poor results this time around. If I were a Mets fan I would get my playoff tickets early.

Ken Morse is a contributed writer to the Citizen’s News.