By Jason Keidel
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In two turbulent years, the Mets went from Big Apple darlings to their old, downtrodden selves. In October 2015, they were World Series bound, a few blown saves from a world title. and a club with a blindingly good future.
The Yankees were jamming the reboot button, engaged in a rare, weird rebuild to somehow replace the Core Four and return to their historical form as the sport's greatest franchise. So it looked like the Mets would bogart the bold ink for at least a few years.
Then last year happened. The Yankees made an improbable October run, coming as close as anyone to beating the World Series champion Houston Astros. Then they added Giancarlo Stanton to an already loaded lineup and solid overall squad. The Mets, suffering some amalgam of injury and ineptitude, fell apart like a beach tent in a hurricane.
And, as always, pitching is at the core of the story. The Mets had loads, then had very little. Now, for the first time since we drooled over their pitching possibilities, look to have all five starters ready to go at the same time. Indeed, unless the Mets drown in Florida under the black cloud of tweaked limbs and ligaments, they will have Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler to start the 2018 season. For the first time since, well, ever, they will all pitch in order on the same team and same rotation. And when you consider the Mets have had a quietly good winter -- adding Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier to bring some lumber to a lineup all too dependent on Yoenis Cespedes -- the Mets could surely flip their 70-92 record from 2017.
Can we, as baseball fans and New Yorkers, finally get at least cautiously giddy about this? Out of the five starters, Syndergaard is the only one not to undergo Tommy John surgery. But many pitchers return from said surgery stronger than ever.
So perhaps the question is, how many of these pitchers will suffer from pain or brain issues? If healthy, few are worried about Thor or deGrom. The rest are one big variable. As refreshing as it feels to say this is the first time all five are healthy -- they combined for just 86 starts last year -- this could be their last shot to make this rotation work.
Many pundits feel it pivots on Matt Harvey. The former Dark Knight of Gotham, who went from comic book hero to antihero to injury-prone nuisance, is eligible for free agency after the 2018 season. Recovering from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome and shoulder discomfort, 2017 was yet another disastrous season for a pitcher who quickly became a cultural icon in a New York minute, only to unravel under the weight of injury and insolence. Not only was Harvey pitching poorly, he was either showing up late, or not at all, for team functions.
On the mound, he was awful, going 5-7 with a career-worst 6.70 ERA last season. New Mets pitching coach, Davel Eiland said it was as mental as physical.
"Mechanically, I'll be honest with you, it looks to me like he got in some bad habits," Eiland told reporters Wednesday. "Simply because he had some injuries. It looks to me like he was doing something with his lower half to help his upper half, which is his arm."
Eiland feels good about Harvey's place in the rotation and his peace of mind.
"Matt was here early, so we were able to get some sides in here in the past week, and he's gotten back on track a little bit," Eiland said. "He's healthy. He's done his work this winter. He's in good shape, physically and mentally."
We will find that out soon enough, some time after Opening Day, which is March 29. And while Wheeler and Matz are vital to a season the Mets hope ends in late October instead of September, a rebound season from Harvey would have to pick up the rest of the rotation, if not the entire team. Harvey is the face of the franchise revival that found them in the '15 Fall Classic. And the fact that that World Series was lost with him failing to secure that shutout in Game 5 is more than a metaphor, and more than symbolism.
When Harvey is right, the energy radiates out from the mound to the bleachers to the last row, from the franchise to the fans. For better or worse, Harvey means more than a divine right arm. Even if he's the third-best pitcher on the staff this season, 30 starts and a few high-octane games of rising fastballs would do wonders for the team from Flushing.
It was Harvey's talent, temerity and presence that made Mets fans believe again. The media and masses hope he has more than one good season left in that arm, but one will do for now.
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