I’ve got a special treat for you today, as we head into a brand new season of New York Mets baseball beginning on Monday when Noah Syndergaard will throw the first pitch of Opening Day at Citi Field.
I reached out to one of my favorite writers, a veteran of the New York City beat, the one and only Kevin Kernan of the New York Post. Kevin was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me as he was making his way from Port St. Lucie back to the friendly confines of the Big Apple.
Kevin spent a good two months watching Mets players work themselves into shape and getting ready for what should be another exciting season in Flushing. With all his thoughts and observations from Mets camp still fresh, I knew he would be the perfect guy to pick his brain and ask a few questions as we get ready for Opening Day. So without further a do, here’s my interview with Kevin.
Joe DeCaro – As the Mets break camp and head up North, was there one or two players who really impressed you in Port St. Lucie, and can you share your thoughts on them?
Kevin Kernan – Yes, that’s why I fully expect Noah Syndergaard to win the Cy Young Award, battling Clayton Kershaw and equally expect Yoenis Cespedes to capture MVP honors in a battle with Bryce Harper.
Syndergaard is driven to success, and is a perfect fit for New York. His ability to pick up new pitching techniques quickly is as impressive as his 100-mph fastball. If he can keep his new changeup down, it gives him the killer weapon.
As for Cespedes, he has been a baseball vagabond in MLB, but now has found a home with the Mets and he wants to make the most of that opportunity. This is a much better Cespedes than last season and one that wants to take on the leadership role to lead the Mets into postseason success.
Joe D – What were your thoughts on Tebow Mania? It seems some thought it was good for the game, others laughed it off as a publicity stunt, and others still hated the whole thing entirely.
Kevin – Tim Tebow made spring training a lot less boring than it usually is especially in a WBC spring when rosters are hit with a loss of manpower. It’s always good to take a gifted athlete from another sport and let him try his hand at baseball to once again show everyone how difficult a game – physically and mentally – baseball is to play. Tebow did his job across the board and I’m willing to give him 500 minor league at-bats to see where he stacks up at the end of the year. It’s a nice diversion.
Joe D – Will the Mets see anything out of David Wright this season? Such a sad series of unfortunate events for a genuine good-hearted guy who loves the team and the game.
Kevin – OGK. Only God Knows. The last time Wright and I talked he said he could not even make 20 throws, the pain was so bad in his shoulder because of the nerve damage. The goal was to strengthen the tiny muscles in the area so he could function at third base and deal with the pain. Wright will continue to rehab, but if there is no progress the next time he throws, he will be at a crossroads.
Joe D – Is this the year that we will finally see the Fab Five (Harvey, Syndergaard, Matz, deGrom, Wheeler) all pitching in the same rotation at some point this season?
Kevin – I doubt it. Already Steven Matz is on the shelf for weeks. There’s too much injury history in their past for this to become a dream reality for the Mets. Having four of five of them, works, though.
Joe D – The Mets have a bunch of Comeback Candidates on their team. Is there a Mets player that you think will bust out with an unexpected comeback season in 2017?
Kevin – Jay Bruce put together a terrific spring and I am not just talking about results from the left-handed batters box. His place in the clubhouse became comfortably cemented. He was extremely at ease with his teammates and took on a leadership role. He’s no longer just a hired gun who showed up at the end of the season.
Bruce is a big believer in deep breathing techniques and seems more relaxed, his approach this year will make all the difference. But remember he will be streaky, that’s who he is as a hitter. Bruce has too much talent and power not to have success as a Met this season.
Joe D – As the Mets head into the 2017 season, what if any are still the underlying concerns?
Kevin – The health of the rotation is a concern, I touched on that already. I expect Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom to lead the rotation with Matt Harvey giving them a tremendous boost as long as Harvey does not rush it, trying to re-gain his velocity.
Alex Cobb, who underwent TOS surgery in 2011, told me it took about a year for his velocity to completely return but he was a young pitcher at the time. Cobb said Harvey has many more weapons in his pitching repertoire than he did at the time and that Harvey should be able to survive with what he has now.
I see all the teams in the spring and no team has the starting depth that the Mets rotation has even with their health issues.
Other concerns: Can Curtis Granderson hang on for one more season of success and how much will centerfield wear on him? Can Lucas Duda stay healthy? Will Jose Reyes do enough offensively in a position that usually is a power-based position at third base?
Will the Mets hit more consistently with RISP? Can Jeurys Familia do better in the big postseason games? I’ve noted it since the start of spring training, catcher Travis d’Arnaud has made great strides with his new swing, but he is still thinking way too much about his throwing behind the plate and that has to improve.
Joe D – How do the Mets stack up against the Washington Nationals?
Kevin – Going to be a two-team race with the Mets coming out on top this year. Bryce Harper will have a big season but considering all the injuries the Mets had last season, they still won 87 games and should be able to make up the difference in the NL East if they stay relatively healthy.
Either way, one of these two teams will win the East, I’m picking the Mets, the other will be a wild card. I fully expect the Mets to make it back to the World Series this season like they did in 2015. A couple key veterans are in walk years in Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes and I think the Mets would not hesitate to call up young Amed Rosario for a second-half boost if needed.
Joe D – Thank you for your time Kevin, you are a gentleman and a scholar.
You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @WheresKernan.
(Photos from our provider USA Today)