2013 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The New York Mets.

The Big Question: Can David Wright carry the Mets to .500?

The Mets are in a transition period. The outfield is thin, the bullpen is thin, the starting rotation is a combination of young arms and injury-prone veterans, and the infield aside from David Wright is lacking. Here’s how good Wright was compared to the rest of his teammates last year: according to FanGraphs, he was worth a team-best 7.8 Wins Above Replacement. The next-best on offense? Ruben Tejada at 2.1. Among pitchers, only the now-departed R.A. Dickey challenged at 4.6.

Having added very little via free agency during the off-season, the Mets are hoping a young core can make steady progress while the veterans stay healthy and avoid pitfalls. They have already dealt with their first bit of adversity when closer Frank Francisco’s elbow started bothering him. Though he may be ready by Opening Day, 28-year-old Bobby Parnell with 17 career saves will take over the ninth inning in his stead.

25-year-old first baseman Ike Davis disappointed last season, finishing with a .227 average and .308 on-base percentage despite 32 home runs. Soon-to-be 24-year-old Matt Harvey is expected to improve on ten impressive starts in his first taste of MLB action last year, when he posted a 2.73 ERA and averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis will need to recapture his April magic from last year, when he hit .325.

On the flip side, they will need veterans Johan Santana (back), Shaun Marcum (elbow), and Francisco to stay healthy. But even if everything goes right, it’s hard to see them finishing above .500, though stranger things have happened.

What else is going on? 

  • Johan Santana had some issues with the Mets not too long ago, but those have apparently been settled. GM Sandy Alderson criticized the lefty for not arriving to camp “in pitching shape”. That upset Santana, who threw unscheduled from a mound a day later. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News described Santana’s anger as “palpable”. While one would hope these issues are put to bed forever, you never know what may rise to the surface should the Mets or Santana specifically get off to a slow start.
  • David Wright has been on fire during the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. In 17 at-bats, the third baseman has seven hits including one home run (a grand slam) and ten RBI, a good harbinger for the upcoming regular season. Despite having his best season since 2008, Wright finished sixth in NL MVP voting but it would surprise no one if he went home with some hardware after the 2013 season.
  • You might see prospect Zack Wheeler at some point during the season, most likely as a September call-up when rosters expand. Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade, Wheeler posted a 3.26 ERA in 149 innings spent between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, mostly in Double-A. Baseball America rated him the #11 overall prospect heading into this season, so you can imagine the excitement Mets have with a future rotation that may include  him and Matt Harvey.
  • The Mets moved in the fences after the 2011 season, hoping to inspire more offense, but it didn’t seem to work. Their collective .726 home OPS in 2011 dropped to .679 last year. It could have been a fluke, but I don’t think Citi Field’s dimensions are at the root of their offensive issues.

Prediction: Fourth place, National League East.

Attempting to complete cycle, Robinson Chirinos thrown out to end game

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With his Astros trailing the Tigers 2-1, catcher Robinson Chirinos began his at-bat in the bottom of the ninth a triple shy of the cycle. He doubled in the second inning, singled in the fourth, and hit a solo homer in the seventh. Yordan Álvarez and Yuli Gurriel both struck out, leaving the Astros’ fate in the hands of Chirinos against Joe Jiménez. After working the count to 2-1, Chirinos slapped an 85 MPH slider to the gap in right-center field. A diving Travis Demeritte could not come up with the ball, but center fielder Harold Castro fired the ball back in to Gordon Beckham, who then made a perfect throw to Dawel Lugo at third base. Chirinos was tagged out for the final out of the game. No triple, no cycle. The Astros lost 2-1.

Chirinos was attempting to become the first Astro to hit for the cycle since Brandon Barnes on July 19, 2013 against the Mariners.

The Astros entered Wednesday’s game as the largest favorite in 15 seasons, according to ESPN’s David Purdum. The Astros were -500 per Caesars Sportsbook. Other sportsbooks had them at -550. So the Tigers’ win was quite the upset.

Justin Verlander went the distance in the loss. The only blemishes on his line were solo homers to Ronny Rodríguez in the fifth and John Hicks in the ninth. They were the only hits he allowed while walking none and striking out 11.