Consider this for a moment: The Mets are contenders. They are viable, certifiable World Series contenders.
This seems odd for so many reasons.
It is a burden the organization has not held in a while. Self-loathing from the fanbase (“LOLMets” anyone?) and stumbling and bumbling from the parts of the team that actually decided the results had underlined the previous nine years. That’s all changed so quickly. Port St. Lucie is suddenly a boomtown. Tradition Field is near capacity. Citi Field is now an en vogue location. Expectations and superlatives have nearly peaked.
“They’re as talented a team as I’ve ever seen,” Bobby Valentine, the former Mets manager, said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to watch them play.” Of course, then Valentine reminds you that “I’ve seen a lot of teams” in his career and this team matches up with the best of them. The Mets phenomenon is real. The collection of talent is spectacular. They are the darlings of baseball–and still have the Royals inexplicably aggrieved.
Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Jacob deGrom are on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the team has been dubbed as the favorites to repeat. “Could the best be yet to come for the Mets’ (still) young guns?” it reads. Second-year starter Noah Syndergaard could have the best year of any member of that starting rotation. A 6-foot-6 behemoth with a blazing fastball, a drop-dead curve, and a capacity to learn new information quickly is a ghastly sight for opposing hitters. It could take hundreds of words to describe just how good he is and could be (And hey, we just did it this week!) but let one opposing major league scout sum it up: “He’s a beast.”
Heck, even Eric Hosmer, the bringer of doom last November, is on the bandwagon.
“You can definitely see the Mets being that team to get back on that stage and win on that stage,” he told the New York Daily News this month. “Not only did they get the experience (from the World Series), but they’ve got some guys who have established themselves as superstars in the game. I think the future is bright for those fans in New York.”
There is, of course, a sense of bitterness of unfulfilled ambitions. The Royals did bludgeon their title hopes in five games last fall. “For everybody in this room, I think we came into spring training with the same mind we had last year,” Familia said. “Trying to go back. Everybody is hungry to go win.” This particular athlete cliché is the sanded-down version of the truth that still nags the club. It has been source of motivation so far this spring–the blight to a fabulous run.
But the Mets wouldn’t be the Mets without some agita-inducing moments either. It’s what makes them both endearing and head-scratching. This is an organization that could go undefeated and still cause their fans to white-knuckle their way through the summer. Just look at this winter, when there was more Twitter characters wasted waiting for Yoenis Cespedes than celebrating the team’s newfound relevance. The Mets trudged along through the winter without re-signing Cespedes until they either slow-played or fell into–depending on who you believe–a deal. The recent Matt Harvey episode (you know which one) was a 24-hour reminder that nothing comes easy in Queens.
That’s what will make this season so damn interesting. Relying on pitching can be a dangerous wager but when a team has accrued so much of it like the Mets, it can be worth it. The Mets are contenders and–to the team at least–it doesn’t seem so odd at all. “I think that we are beginning to form that winning culture that everybody always talks about,” David Wright said. “Obviously doing it for one year doesn’t count.”
They are being chased and instead of wondering about their heavy shoulders, it will just be fun to watch. How often can you say that about this franchise?
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