Wilmer Flores wasn’t halfway back to the Mets’ dugout after striking out to end the bottom of the 12th inning and last year’s World Series when we already asking the question: Can the Mets return to the Series?
Getting to the World Series is one thing, but getting back there is different, and much harder. Much harder for the simple reason everybody is gunning for you.
“The first thing I talked about in spring training is the difference between being the hunter and the hunted,” David Wright told reporters. “We have a bullseye on us now.”
That they do. The Washington Nationals want to wrestle the NL East back from them and the Chicago Cubs – everybody’s sexy pick to get to the World Series – want to avenge being swept in the NLCS.
Last year at this time, the Mets entered the season without having a winning record since 2008. The hope was their young pitching keyed by Matt Harvey‘s return following Tommy John surgery, and Jacob deGrom coming off a Cy Young season, could carry them. And, don’t forget, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hadn’t even made their major league debuts.
The Mets entered 2015 with questions at catcher, shortstop, Wright’s health at third, left field and in the bullpen.
The Mets got off to a blistering start, but lost Wright in April with a strained hamstring that turned into spinal stenosis and almost four months on the disabled list. The pitching kept the Mets afloat when the hitting collapsed.
The Mets kicked away their early lead, then turned their season around when Michael Conforto was brought up and the team traded for Yoenis Cespedes with a couple of days after a trade for Carlos Gomez fell through which created the enduring image of the season, that being Flores crying at shortstop after hearing he had been traded to Milwaukee.
The season began with .500 as the goal, but the Mets pulled away from Washington, outlasted the Dodgers in five games – winning the deciding game on the road – and sweeping the Cubs to reach their first World Series since 2000 and the fifth in franchise history.
However, Jeurys Familia blew three save opportunities in the World Series and the bats fell quiet and the Royals won in five games.
“Falling short can be a motivator,” deGrom said.
Daniel Murphy left, but the Mets appear to have upgraded their up-the-middle defense with the acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cespedes was brought back and they’ll have Conforto for a full year. They’ll also expect to have Syndergaard and Matz for a full season.
The health of Wright and Travis d’Arnaud are significant issues as is the make-up of the bullpen.
But, we’re not talking about .500 as a primary goal, but winning a World Series.
“Mets fans are hungry,” Wright said. “We’re hungry.”