COMMENTARY | Unless you're the eternal optimist, you know the New York Mets are not winning the National League East in 2013. In fact, they're probably not winning the division anytime soon.
There are plenty of reasons, of course, but the bottom line is this: Even if the Mets fielded a team capable of competing, instead of the one they'll start the season with April 1, the NL East is too good.
While the Mets have remained stagnant at best, the Washington Nationals have emerged as a preseason favorite to win the World Series, the Atlanta Braves added two Uptons (Justin and B.J.) to their outfield, and the Philadelphia Phillies still have ace pitchers.
That leaves a tight race for fourth place, featuring the Mets, with no outfield, and the Miami Marlins, who didn't even challenge for the division when they had star players last year.
Actually, thank God for the Marlins. Because Miami gave everyone away in the offseason, the Mets may be assured of yet another fourth-place finish, which would be their fifth in a row.
As if that wasn't enough to convince you, here are a few more reasons why the Mets won't win the NL East in 2013:
The outfield is bad. Really bad.
I'm sorry, but when your most dependable outfielder is Marlon Byrd, you have some issues. Based on what we saw in spring training, as well as last year's results, the Mets are in trouble in center field. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been hurt this spring. But it hurts us to watch him strike out as much as he does. In left field, Lucas Duda may have some pop, but he still has to prove he can be a consistent hitter. And even if he does, he's a defensive liability. None of the other options, including Collin Cowgill and Mike Baxter, are going to be difference-makers.
The Mets may have the worst outfield in baseball. It's certainly the worst in the NL East.
The starting pitching is solid, but...
Johan Santana is hurt again. And this time, he's likely done as a Met.
General manager Sandy Alderson revealed Santana has a probable re-tear of the anterior capsule of his left shoulder. He's likely headed for a second surgery on his throwing shoulder. The first operation in 2010 resulted in Santana missing the entire 2011 season.
When the Mets shut him down earlier this spring, it was because of a lack of arm strength. That was alarming. This news means his Mets career is probably finished. And while the Mets have arms to replace Santana, and, certainly, they didn't expect him to be the ace he once was. But they needed to get something from him, especially considering they're paying him $31 million this season.
Now the rotation consists of Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, Shaun Marcum, Jeremy Hefner, and, eventually, Zack Wheeler. Still pretty solid, but not as good as the Braves, Nationals, or Phillies.
The infield is solid, but...
Ruben Tejada and injuries. That's the story of the Mets' 2013 spring training.
Tejada has struggled mightily at the plate, hitting .080 with four hits in 50 at-bats. In 2012, Tejada showed he could be an everyday shortstop, but the Mets can't be happy with his awful performance at the plate this spring.
Daniel Murphy and David Wright have been hurt, but the Mets are hoping both will be ready for opening day. With Ike Davis at first base, Murphy at second, and Wright at third, the Mets have a strong infield.
While the infield isn't a concern, Tejada is. If he's average, the Mets' infield is just as good as any other in the NL East. But if Tejada doesn't hit, if his defense drops off, or if injuries continue to plague the Mets' infielders, it's a different story.
The Bottom Line
In 2013, the Mets will try to stay afloat in one of the best divisions in baseball. It won't be easy.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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