While the 2016 Fall Classic went the way of the Chicago Cubs, the New York Mets are the true 2017 National League favorites.
Twenty-sixteen was a year that allowed the Cubbies to be tagged with the description of “fortunate,” among other tags. Obviously, they were pretty damn good. No team that coasts through 162 games with 103 wins can be considered completely fortunate. Thanks to a patient rebuild courtesy of Theo Epstein, Chicago’s NL team boasts youngsters who fill every possible attribute imaginable. (So talented, in fact, that they overcame the terrible managing of Joe Maddon in the World series … but I digress for the time being.)
Still, fortunate is the word of the day and it’s all attributed to just how devastated the Mets were.
How New York found its way to the No. 1 wild card slot a season ago is still not known by many. Despite a profound impact via injuries to top names such as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, David Wright, Steven Matz and more, the Amazins came out victorious 87 times.
Until Chicago proves it can hang with New York in October, these Mets deserve top billing entering April. Nobody should be considered a better favorite in the National League.
Much like the Mets, the Cubs, too, almost fell in five games in the World Series. If not for a Cleveland Indians collapse, they would have — similarly to the Mets defeat to the Kansas City Royals the previous fall.
Looking at the NL side of things purely, how could the Cubbies be a bigger favorite than the Mets?
I mean, come on … it’s not even close.
Jake Arrieta is still one hell of a pitcher. While he fell off from the stud-level we saw in 2015, he’s still worth mentioning as a top-flight arm. Kyle Hendricks, while his stellar 2016 still looms large (16-8, 3.13 ERA, 170 K), will have to duplicate the season in order to convince the naysayers.
The Mets rotation, well, is the best in the game even with injury concerns.
Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey make up the best one-two-three punch in baseball, but the beauty about this club is what comes after those three. Steven Matz is loaded with talent, Zack Wheeler is a former first-rounder bursting at the seams, and both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo (the ReplaceMets) serve as tremendous depth who most teams would love to slot into the middle of the rotation.
Whether it’s trucking through 162 games or squaring up in a short five or seven-game series, the Mets rotation squashes the competition.
The immediate nod would go to the defending champs. After all, NL MVP Kris Bryant resides on the north side, coming off a 39 HR, 102 RBI campaign. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber … there are too many studs to count.
Interestingly enough, the Mets easily have the power to match.
Look around the entire Mets lineup. Whether it’s Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera or Michael Conforto (if he ever sees the lineup), New York is loaded with power.
The Mets finished with 218 home runs a season ago. The Cubs finished with 199. And we already know which lineup is more solidified coming into 2017, despite the return of Schwarber full-time.
Oh yeah, the Mets will also welcome in Jay Bruce for an entire season. Not bad.
Now, this is an area of concern for the New York NL club. Forget the fact Jeurys Familia will be suspended for the first 15 games of the season. It literally means squat. What matters is how he’ll respond in the big game.
We’ve seen it a few times now. Familia has cracked under the pressure. Alex Gordon in the World Series and the NL Wild Card Game a season ago are two big game examples.
How Addison Reed responds after a big season is another thing to watch out for.
Having said that, what’s so special about the Cubs ‘pen?
Wade Davis was signed during the offseason as the club’s de facto closer. This, on the surface, feels like a downgrade in comparison to Aroldis Chapman. Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Carl Edwards Jr. are electrifying arms, but Terry Collins also has a few options in Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles and Jerry Blevins.
Both ‘pens are pretty comparable.
Quite honestly, both clubs are designed in a similar fashion. Everybody knows Sandy Alderson’s motto of a “base on balls and a blast.” He believes in power at almost every position while admitting defeat in the speed and defense department.
When looking around the Cubs chart, the same can be said. Jason Heyward provides excellent defense out of right field and Willson Contreras is terrific behind the plate. Aside from Cespedes’ arm in left, not much can be said for New York’s defense. The double-play tandem is solid, but very little else can be highlighted.
Here’s where Jose Reyes makes all the difference in the world.
Dexter Fowler is no longer in Chicago. Chicago’s lone semi-speed element in the lineup is now gone. Contrastly, Collins will now have Reyes — who’s proven to be a good third baseman with plenty of range — at the leadoff spot for a full season. His speed and energetic presence blend perfectly with the rest of the lineup.
While, overall, the Cubbies edge the Mets in the speed/defense department, it’s pretty close with Fowler gone and Reyes here full-time.
Obviously, injuries always play out as the wild card in any given sports season. There’s no defense for an injury. The only thing that can be done is to scout and decrease the chance that an injury-prone player is acquired.
Therefore, these Mets won’t be able to pound their chests until that dreaded injury bug slides out of the building.
That aside, there’s no chance the Cubs should be NL favorites ahead of the Mets. When the two went mano-y-mano in 2015, it was no contest. As per usual, the great pitching knocked out the great hitting. Fast forward two seasons and nothing’s changed.
If you’re a guy who puts great stock in crowning defending champs for the next season, you simply won’t be persuaded at this time. Just remember this: the last time we saw back-to-back World Series champs came in 1999 and 2000 when the New York Yankees did it.
These Cubbies have a big hill to climb in 2017 and now that the New York Mets are fully locked and loaded, there’s no chance they can be the clear-cut NL favorites heading into the season.