Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom
ESNY Graphic

Going into the 2020 season, New York Mets fans should embrace a simple truth: The Mets might be pretty good.

Baseball is coming back, which means those questions that seemed abstract and far-off for so long are suddenly important. The New York Mets’ bullpen matters again. It’s now sensible to worry about lineup construction and positioning. I’m not saying Luis Rojas’ choice of leadoff hitter is more important than a pandemic, but I’m not not saying it isn’t either.

And now that there’s a reason to dissect good, old-fashioned baseball issues again, the Mets actually look fairly formidable. In fact, with the team they’ve assembled, it’s difficult to think they’ll end up anywhere but close to the top of their division.

The Mets’ pitching staff, for one, is likely second only to the Nationals within the division. At the top of the rotation, the Mets have Jacob deGrom, probably the best pitcher in baseball. Behind him, there’s Marcus Stroman, who has consistently oscillated between good and great. Steven Matz has put together back-to-back competent seasons, and new additions Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha have both shown that they’re capable of putting together solid seasons. Porcello and Wacha won’t be stars, but there’s every chance that they both prove competent and reasonably reliable.

Behind the starting rotation, the bullpen also — I can’t believe what I’m saying — looks solid. Seth Lugo, of course, was dominant in 2019, and will probably serve as a sort of roving relief ace this season, entering whenever he’s needed and extinguishing rallies with ease. Justin Wilson also dominated in 2019, with a 2.54 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Wilson probably won’t be quite as good in 2020 — but Edwin Díaz, Mets fans have to hope, will be quite a bit better than he was. Díaz is far too good a pitcher to repeat the 5.59 ERA he put up in 2019, and on Opening Day, he’ll still only be 26.

Then there’s Jeurys Familia, who reportedly lost 30 pounds over the offseason and allowed only one run in five spring training appearances while striking out a batter per inning, and Dellin Betances, who’s been a superb reliever since 2014. The Mets also have Brad Brach, who pitched to a 3.68 ERA with the Mets in 2019; Robert Gsellman, who can still be a valuable reliever, and the mustachioed lefthander Daniel Zamora.

The Mets’ pitching staff, barring calamity — knock on wood — will be solid. The lineup may be even better.

Brandon Nimmo will probably lead off. If Nimmo can match his .387 career on-base percentage, let alone exceed it, the Mets will have one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. Behind him, there’s Pete Alonso, perhaps the best power hitter in baseball. There’s Jeff McNeil, one of the best all-around offensive threats the Mets have ever had, who posted a .916 OPS last season. There’s J.D. Davis, who hit the ball harder than just about anyone last season and put up an OPS of .895. There’s Michael Conforto, who set a career-high in 2019 with 33 home runs and also posted an .863 OPS. There’s Wilson Ramos, whose .351 OBP in 2019 ranked fifth in baseball among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances.

The weakest links in the Mets’ lineup are Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, and both might not even be that bad. Cano, obviously, was disappointing in 2019, but there were signs of improvement as the season went on. His OPS in the first half of the season was .646. In the second half, it rose to .880. With Rosario, there are still things to worry about, most prominently a low walk rate. But in the second half of last season, Rosario batted .319/.351/.453. That second half was powered by a probably-unsustainable .363 BABIP, but Rosario, at the very least, has proven that he’s not an automatic out at the plate.

To be sure, winning this season won’t be easy. There will be setbacks, failures, and injuries. Every team has those every year, even though it seems like the Mets have more than anyone else. But all the Mets can do is build a team and take the field. Yes, they could be better: the outlook would be a lot more positive if the Mets had Zack Wheeler in the rotation and Yasmani Grandal behind the plate. But even as currently constituted, the Mets look strong.

It’s a difficult sentiment for Mets fans to process, considering the lineups the Mets have put on the field all too recently, but it’s true. Baseball is coming, and the Mets have as good a chance as anyone to take advantage. Baseball Prospectus projects the Mets to win the NL East. Their success is a real possibility. In July, America will welcome baseball back after far too long. Mets fans may greet another familiar friend, that far too often has failed to arrive: a contender.

I have followed New York sports passionately for almost my entire life, since I went to Shea Stadium in 2004 and saw Jae Seo lose 8-1 to the Pirates. At journalism school, I once missed covering a Land Use Committee meeting to write about Jacob deGrom's last start of the year.