This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 23: The New York Mets. You can find previews for teams 30 through 24 here.
2013 Record and Finish: 74-88, third place in NL East (20th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 73-89, third place in NL East
The Case For
There'll be no Matt Harvey on the mound in Queens this year, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism for the Mets. Zack Wheeler, Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard lead a group of talented Mets prospects who will see time with the big league club in 2014. General manager Sandy Alderson made a big move to resuscitate the team's offense by signing Curtis Granderson, and Daniel Murphy has emerged as one of the National League's better second basemen offensively. David Wright remains one of the game's premier hitters and defenders at third base. The addition of Bartolo Colon should help make up for Harvey's lost innings. And there's more help coming from the minors; the Mets' system was ranked eighth in baseball this offseason by Baseball Prospectus and includes potential rotation options in Jenrry Mejia and Rafael Montero.
The Case Against
You can expect growing pains for the Mets' youngsters, and Syndergaard—the team's top prospect—probably won't throw his first MLB pitch until midseason. The 33-year-old Granderson, coming off his worst season since 2005, won't have the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium to aid him any more. First base remains a sore spot, with the injury-plagued Ike Davis unable to stay on the field and produce, and the Mets have struggled to find an adequate replacement for Jose Reyes at shortstop. The bullpen inspires little confidence, and the rotation will likely be a patchwork project throughout the season. If everything breaks right for the Mets, they could make a charge at .500; more likely, the team will set its sights on 2015 as its return to contention.
X-Factor: Ike Davis
This is a make-or-break season for the 27-year-old Davis, who suffered through a brutal 2013 campaign (.205/.326/.334 in 377 plate appearances) that included a midseason demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Injuries played a part in Davis' struggles—he reportedly sustained an oblique injury during the season that he then didn't disclose to the team—but he looked like a hitter last season who simply couldn't square up pitches. Against four-seam fastballs, he hit a mere .167 with a .278 slugging percentage, down from .250/.484 in 2012. Lefties also carved him up to the tune of a .145/.203/.203 line in 74 PAs. A rebound to his 2011-12 form would not only give the Mets a desperately needed power bat to go with Wright and Granderson, but would also go a long way toward ensuring Davis' continued stay in Queens. With top position prospect Wilmer Flores blocked at third base and likely too big to play at shortstop, it's worth wondering if another weak season from Davis could permanently cost him his job.
Number To Know: .306
That was the Mets' collective on-base percentage last season, tied with Philadelphia for fifth-worst in baseball. The departures of hacktastic hitters like John Buck and Omar Quintanilla should improve that number, but players like Murphy (2013 OBP: .319), Chris Young (.280), Ruben Tejada (.259) and Juan Lagares (.281) aren't the most patient types. If those players can't get their OBPs trending upward, an offense that managed just 3.82 runs per game last season is going to struggle once again to put runs on the board, putting more pressure on the rotation and the team's mediocre bullpen.
Most overrated: Daniel Murphy
"I don’t know that Murphy’s that good of a second baseman because of his defensive liabilities, and he’s a good hitter, but not a great hitter. The big ballpark hurts him because it takes away his power. He’s a role player, not a star. To his credit, he’s worked hard to go from terrible to mediocre defensively, and he’s a good teammate. People make him out to be a much better player than he actually is, in part because Mets fans are so desperate for an offensive guy besides David Wright."
Most underrated: Bartolo Colon
"What Bartolo does is command the strike zone with his fastball. He used to throw 100 MPH, now he throws 90. What he does is go up, down, in, out, mostly fastballs, and he just moves the ball around. If he throws 100 pitches in a game, he'll throw 80 fastballs. Where they're going to be, he knows and the hitters don't. Just great fastball command. He's a worthy addition to that staff."
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