The NL East was supposed to be a fight between the Mets and Nationals in 2018, but it ended up being a race between the Phillies and the Braves, with the Braves running away with it in the end.
But with a few teams in the National League East facing pivotal off-seasons, such as the Mets and the Nationals, theres plenty of reason to believe that the Mets can win a divisional crown in 2019.
Fix The Bullpen
First and foremost, the Mets have to address baseball’s worst bullpen, and the worst the Mets have had since 1962. The group posted a 4.96 ERA, suffered over 30 losses, and cost the Mets their fair-share of games.
But despite the lack of success, there were a few bright spots. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman proved to be a solid foundation for the 2019 group, and could be joined by the young arms of Daniel Zamora and Drew Smith, who both showed extended flashes of success at the major league level.
Smith posted a 3.54 ERA in 27 appearances, and Zamora held a 3.00 in 16 games of his own. So with a solid foundation of four arms, the Mets have room for three more arms.
The group of those four gave up 72 earned runs in 195.1 innings, good enough for a 3.32 ERA. Every other Mets’ reliever combined to allow 229 earned runs, an ERA of 5.87. So the problem isn’t with the Mets bullpen as a whole, but with the supporting cast.
Effectively, the Mets have room for three to four more relievers, who will all likely come from out of the system.
Jenry Mejia is slated to be activated from his ban from the MLB for substance abuse, and will compete for a spot in the 2019 bullpen.
The Mets are also expected to be active in a star-studded reliever camp, as was pointed out by our own Mike Mayer.
The minor league relief depth is not great, and the only other arm to prove that he can be serviceable out of a major league bullpen is Tyler Bashlor.
It should go without saying the bullpen should be priority one entering the off-season and revamping it will be key to any success in 2019.
Let The Kids Play
This should really go without saying, In most of May and June, the Mets two worst months, they ran out the likes of Devin Mesoraco, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Asdrubal Cabrera, all aging veterans, and won a combined 15 games, and lost 38.
So if the Mets are to contend in 2019, they have to keep the same philosophy: play the kids. You have minor league baseball’s best slugger in Peter Alonso, primed and ready to make his major league debut in 2019.
McNeil has done virtually everything there is to do to lock up the starting second baseman gig for the 2019 season, and that’s the right way to go.
Instead of shelling money on a free agent over the age of thirty, the Mets can start Hit-Machine McNeil on his club-friendly contract, and spend the money elsewhere.
Conforto had one of the greatest second half in Mets histories, and Nimmo posted a top-10 single-season OBP in franchise history, making them both staples in the lineup, and keys to 2019 success.
If the team face more sticky injury situations in 2019, which they almost certainly will, it’s on them to play the kids and trust in their player development, rather than signing over-the-hill veterans to take playing time away from the younger, talented players.
Don’t Let One Bad Loss Spiral You Into A Lost Season
The Mets were leading the Nationals 6-1 in the seventh inning on April 16th and suffered a horrible loss 8-6, dropping their record to 12-3. We all figured it was too early in the season for things to tailspin, but they did.
The Mets would finish April 5-6, struggled in May, and then hit an all-time low in June. The Mets finished the season 65-83 following that loss.
Contribute it to whatever you want, but that loss set off a terrible rut for the Mets, that they wouldn’t get out of until, August and September.
Although they would finally figure things out in the second half, the drop off following the loss to the Nationals is likely what killed the 2018 campaign for the Mets.
The 2015 Mets were able to achieve such a goal after an infamous loss to the San Diego Padres that should have sunk their season.
Instead, they bounced back, swept a huge series from the Washington Nationals, and went on to win the National League Pennant.
So between the two instances, we have two textbook outcomes, one good one bad.
The Mets will suffer a heart-breaking loss in 2019, every team does every year. But it will be key to be able to rebound from it and keep moving forward, rather than let it boil over and linger into the following days, weeks, and months.
Win Within Your Own Division & Beat The Teams You Should
This is one of the few things the Mets did well wire-to-wire in 2018. The Mets finished over .500 against the NL East, which is obviously a positive.
If the Mets are going to win next season, they’ll need a repeat act. In a division that has a miserable Marlins team, a Nationals team expected to lose Bryce Harper in free agency.
The Phillies totally fell off the deep end in waning days of the 2018 season, and the Braves will look to repeat as the class of the division. So with baseball’s worst division on most of their schedule, the Mets will have to capitalize on the soft schedule.
The Mets went 12-7 against the Marlins, 11-8 against the Nationals and Phillies each, and 6-13 against the Braves, the only divisional rival they posted a sub-.500 record against. The Mets went 40-36 against the N.L East in 2018.
They may have won in their own division, but the Mets also struggled against some of baseball’s worst teams. The Mets went 3-3 against the Reds, 1-3 against the Orioles, and 2-2 against the Blue Jays.
Next season, the Mets will face the Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Twins, Royals, WhiteSox, Tigers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Giants, Reds, and Pirates, all teams that finished with 82 or fewer wins. So with an obviously weak lineup of opponents, the Mets will need to find a way to take advantage of it.