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New York Mets 2017 MLB season preview: Few changes, high hopes

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange
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New York Mets 2017 MLB season preview: Few changes, high hopes
New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard walks by manager Terry Collins to the dugout. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

General manager Sandy Alderson expressed his faith in the New York Mets' core talent and its ability to produce a franchise-record third straight playoff berth by making no major additions or subtractions to the team that fell to the San Francisco Giants in the National League wild-card game.

"We have roughly the same squad coming back, but I do think we have the capacity to improve, whether that comes through injury or experience or growth of some of the young players," Alderson said at his season-opening press conference in February. "I really think that we have the potential to be better than we have been."

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Of course, to reach that potential, everything will have to go according to plan -- which, for a famously star-crossed franchise, is almost as unprecedented as three straight playoff trips. And sure enough, the Mets were reminded of the fragile nature of their 2017 hopes as they prepared to break camp in the final days of March.

Left-hander Steven Matz, expected to be the fourth starter in a vaunted rotation, missed his final scheduled Grapefruit League start due to a sore elbow. Matz's ailment underscored not only his checkered health history -- he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and has battled lat, elbow and shoulder injuries in his first two big league seasons -- but also the fact that none of the Mets' starters have ever thrown 200 innings in a season.

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Projected fourth outfielder Juan Lagares suffered an oblique strain during the final weekend of exhibition play. Lagares is the only true center fielder on the roster, so any extended absence will remove the safety net beneath 36-year-old Curtis Granderson, who will start in center this season for the first time since 2012.

No player 36 or older has played 100 games in center since 36-year-old Mike Cameron did so for the Brewers in 2009. And no playoff team has featured a center fielder 36 or older since the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series with 36-year-old Jim Edmonds in center field in 2006.

Granderson is one of seven projected starters who is at least 30 years old. The Mets chose to hang on to their lone 20-something, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, instead of pursuing free agents Matt Wieters and Derek Norris.

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But d'Arnaud, who struggled hitting and throwing last season due to a shoulder injury, gave up 12 stolen bases in Grapefruit League play. Manager Terry Collins acknowledged d'Arnaud would likely not catch ace Noah Syndergaard due to his inability to contain the running game.

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The Matz and Lagares injuries and d'Arnaud throwing woes won't instantly derail the Mets, who remain focused on winning their second pennant in three years and the franchise's first world championship since 1986.

"We've got some big pieces," Collins told the New York Post in January. "You've got to say we're a playoff team again. I want us to grasp those expectations that are in front of us and run with them."

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But the news coming from Port St. Lucie late in spring training was a reminder it is also impossible to forget the Mets' floor -- and the shutting of a championship window for a team built on cost-controlled pitching and veteran position talent -- feels as close as their ceiling.

"These guys are legit," Collins said in February.

As long as they're healthy, that is.

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