Throughout a 162 game regular season, just about every single organization around the big leagues has some unexpected surprises along the way. Whether it is a pleasant surprise that can benefit the team or something that can hurt a team’s chances of winning games, every team goes through them throughout a long six month regular season.
In 2017, it was no secret that the Mets suffered some tough breaks along the way as many of their star players suffered major injuries that derailed their season, resulting in the Mets finishing 70-92 and fourth place in the NL East.
But with many of their star players returning from their injuries, some new acquisitions, and a new coaching staff, the Mets and their fan base have every reason to be optimistic for a bounce back 2018 season. If the Mets want to get back to the playoffs after missing out in 2017, they will certainly need some things to go in their favor, whether it is expected or unexpected. So here are five bold predictions I have for the Mets 2018 season.
- Matt Harvey returns to his 2013/2015 form
Coming off of back to back disappointing seasons after dominating the league in 2013 and 2015, I believe that Matt Harvey will have a huge rebound season in 2018, the final year on his current contract. In a total of 35 starts in ’16 and ’17 combined, Harvey went 9-17 with an ERA of 5.79 which was a huge letdown after a 2015 season where he went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 29 regular season starts, his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery. And before missing the entirety of the 2014 season due to the surgery, Harvey was even more dominant in 2013 as he went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA in 26 starts, which earned him a start in the All Star Game that year.
Even though Harvey has dealt with some issues, both physically and mentally these past couple of seasons, I believe that he will have a breakout 2018 season and prove to everybody once again that he can be an elite starting pitcher in the big leagues. With new manager, Mickey Callaway and new pitching coach, Dave Eiland, I think they will help revamp Harvey and keep him healthy enough to make 25-30 starts in 2018. In his contract season, I am predicting that Harvey will win at least 15 games and finish the regular season with an ERA under 3.00.
- Wilmer Flores will earn himself an everyday job by June, which will lead to Asdrubal Cabrera’s departure from New York
Even though not much went right for the Mets in 2017, one bright spot they can take out of it was that Wilmer Flores got a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day due to the injuries and Flores took full advantage of his opportunities. In 110 games last season, Flores batted .271, hit 18 homeruns with 52 RBIs and had an OPS of .795, all career highs. To start the 2018 season, the plan for Flores is to have him as a bench player who will get a good amount of starts against left handed pitching, whether it is at first base or second base.
Flores has showed throughout his big league career he can dominate left handed pitching, but in 2017 Flores proved that he can be just as effective against right handers. Flores batted .262 with 11 homeruns, 39 RBIs, and an OPS of .765 against right handed pitching last year. In 2018, I believe that Flores will tear it up coming off the bench and give manager Callaway no other choice but to find a place to play him every day. The question will be who is going to the bench to make room for Flores? And the answer to that question should be Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera at age 32 is starting to slowly get towards the end of his career and it is no secret that he is not the solid defender he once was. After committing a total of 17 errors in 2017, I think his issues defensively will continue, even at second base, which will lead to Flores taking over as the everyday second baseman.
Even though Flores isn’t exactly the greatest defender either, I think second base will be a much better fit for him. He struggled defensively as the everyday shortstop back in 2015 due to his lack of range, and struggled at third base last season due to his lack of arm strength. But at second base, he won’t have to throw the ball as far to first base and won’t need to cover as much ground compared to shortstop. So with Flores becoming the everyday second baseman and Cabrera moving to the bench, A-Cab will do exactly what he did back in June last season, which is request a trade. Even though General Manager, Sandy Alderson did not move Cabrera and picked up his club option for this upcoming season, I believe that this time Alderson will find a way to get a deal done to get Cabrera to another contending team that could be in need of a veteran infielder.
- The Mets will win at least 50 games against divisional opponents
If there was one thing the Mets had serious issues with last season, it was getting wins against their divisional opponents. With 76 of the 162 games coming against teams in their division, the Mets did a poor job of beating up on their division rivals in 2017, which is something they must improve on in 2018 if they want to compete. The Mets went 37-39 against the NL East last season, a big reason why they were nearly in the basement of the division. Minus the Washington Nationals, the NL East was arguably the weakest division in baseball in 2017 as it featured the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, and the mediocre Miami Marlins.
However, with the Braves and Phillies still in rebuild mode and the Marlins trading away a bunch of their talented stars and embracing a rebuild themselves, that leaves the Nationals as the only true competition for the Mets in the division in 2018. The Mets only went 7-12 against the Marlins last season, but with most of their talent from last season no longer there, the Mets need to win at least 13 of the 19 games against the Marlins this season, no excuses. The Mets did a decent job on beating up on the rebuilding Braves and Phillies last year as they went 12-7 against each of them, so that kind of number against both of those teams in 2018 can certainly be effective.
And then there are the Washington Nationals, the NL East champions in four of the past six seasons. The Mets only went 6-13 against the Nats in 2017, but if the Mets want to take back the NL East from the Nationals, they need to be at least .500 against them this season. Remember when the Mets stunned the baseball world by winning the NL East in 2015 and dethroning the Nationals? What exactly did the Mets do to get there? They beat the Nationals when it mattered. In 2015, the Mets went 11-8 against the Nats which included two three game sweeps within the final two months of the season. Even though the Nationals are the favorites to win the NL East once again in 2018, the Mets need to at least play .500 baseball against them in 2018 if they want to compete in the final weeks of the regular season. So I am predicting the Mets will go 51-25 against the NL East in 2018.
- Juan Lagares will hit at least five homeruns in April
With star outfielder, Michael Conforto expected to miss at least the first month of the 2018 season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, that opens the door for Juan Lagares to play just about every day for at least the first month of the season. Throughout the past few seasons, Lagares has been a solid off the bench option for the Mets who can provide above average speed and defense in center field.
However, he has always had issues at the plate as he has only batted above .260 in a season once, and has never hit more than six homeruns and drive in 50 runs in a season. So without a doubt Lagares wants to improve on his hitting so he can become a solid big league player. During the offseason, reports have indicated that Lagares has been working with private hitting instructor, Robert Van Scoyoc. Van Scoyoc has helped reconstruct the careers of many different players, most notably J.D. Martinez and Chris Taylor. So with Lagares putting in some extra work with his hitting this offseason and in great shape in Spring Training, I think Lagares will have a breakout April with Conforto sidelined due to the shoulder injury he suffered last August. I am predicting that Lagares will match his career high for homers in a season, which is six in just the month of April and his hot start to the 2018 season will open the door for the some more playing time for him, even after Conforto returns.
- Zack Wheeler will lead the Mets in saves at the end of the year
Ever since Mickey Callaway took over as the Mets manager back in October, he has made it no secret that he is not going to designate a closer to pitch the 9th inning each game, as he will manage his bullpen based on the best matchups in the game that suits to his relievers strengths. So Jeruys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak should all get their fair share of save opportunities throughout the 2018 season.
However, at some point this season I believe that starting pitcher, Zack Wheeler will see his role change on this Mets team as Callaway will move him to the bullpen. Ever since getting called up in 2013, Wheeler has been very inconsistent as a starting pitcher and has been unable to stay healthy as he has not pitched a full season since 2014. In 66 career starts, Wheeler is 21-23 with a 3.90 ERA, a WHIP of 1.40 and a strikeout to walk ratio that is just over 2:1. Not to mention he missed the entirety of both the 2015 and 2016 seasons as he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery and only made 17 starts last season due to injuries. I believe that Wheeler will pitch well in Spring Training and earn a spot in the rotation to start the season. However, once the regular season starts, his struggles as a starter will continue and will eventually get Callaway to move him to the bullpen, where he will become a star and get a fair chance of save opportunities and will lead the team in saves at the end of the regular season.