Mets can't take strong 2017 for granted with fragile rotation

We think of the Mets as owning a fully-stocked rotation, what with all the elite young arms they possess. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey can deal hard heat every night, so while the Amazin’s season may have crashed in a not-so-amazing ending in the National League Wild Card Game, pitching makes another October try imminent.

But the reality is that three crucial pitchers will be coming back from surgeries that ended their seasons, which perhaps thrusts the Mets’ potential strength into uncertainty. Harvey, deGrom and Steven Matz all finished the year injured, sporting new scars. Zack Wheeler never made it back from his 2015 Tommy John surgery.

And while the Mets are optimistic about their returns, there’s plenty that each pitcher has to prove, especially for a team so reliant on its arms. Yes, the Mets hit a lot of home runs as a team this year, but starting pitching was a huge part of them making the postseason. Only two teams in baseball had a better rotation ERA than the Mets’ 3.61 — the Cubs (2.96) and Nationals (3.60).

For all the talk about Yoenis Cespedes’ likely opt-out, healing and a return to form by the pitchers may be the biggest questions facing a team with high hopes for 2017.

Plus, they may not have their rotation safety net, Bartolo Colon, next year. Colon saved them this year when frail arms impacted best-laid pitching plans. The ageless wonder was supposed to be starting depth and perhaps a relief weapon this year. Instead, he was a rotation anchor, going 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA, and he would’ve started Game 1 of the division series had the Mets advanced.

Now Colon heads into free agency and while he’s said he wants to return, he may get huge offers in a weak pitching market — he’s the second-best starter available, behind injury-risk Rich Hill. How much will the Mets want to invest in a 43-year-old, regardless of how valuable he’s been over the past three years?

To be fair, the Mets discovered some unexpected starting depth during their run from 60-62 in mid-August to an 87-75 record and their second straight postseason berth. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman both seized opportunities and loom as potential options. They might even be so valued that their presence helps the Mets deem Colon expendable.

Both were terrific and both had nice moments in big games as the Mets were clawing their way into the race. Lugo is a 26-year-old former 34th round pick out of Centenary College who had a 2.67 ERA in 17 outings (eight starts). Gsellman, 22, was a 13th-round pick who had a 2.42 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts).

But that’s only a combined 15 starts, so they’re largely untested. They’ve got plenty to prove, still, just like the troika of deGrom, Harvey and Matz do as they come back from injuries.

There is a tendency to believe that the Mets are set up for 2017, based on the gumption they showed getting to the postseason even with all their setbacks this season. Just think of what they could do next year when everyone is healthy!

That was the prevailing attitude in their own clubhouse late Wednesday night, as the 3-0 loss to Madison Bumgarner and the Giants was beginning to sink in.

Syndergaard, who was nearly Bumgarner’s equal in the do-or-die game, said he believed the season was a positive because of how the Mets handled “a certain amount of adversity, injuries coming down. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys, just being able to go through what we did and compete.

“I think it’s going to be an even more exciting 2017 season.”

Added Terry Collins: “They’re down, but they shouldn’t be because there’s only a few teams that could have come back under the circumstances we came back on and I’m really proud of them.

“To get here, it took a lot of character. Boy, I tell you: We’re disappointed. But we’ll be able to get healthy and we’ll be back.”

But with a fragile rotation, they may not be able to take that for granted.

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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