Fact #2: That improvement still only netted them a 9th place finish, and at the end of the season, they were closer to last place than to 6th place.
Fact #3: Their top pick from 2011, and the #1 pick overall, shredding his Achilles tendon last October and may not play until Father's Day.
Given that doom and gloom, are their reasons for optimism this year for this team? Can we expect and in the money finish, or even the team's first finish in the top 5? Let's see.
While the Howard injury is obviously a problem for at least two months, WTF is taking something of a jack-of-all-trades approach to the problem by employing a bunch of guys that play multiple positions. For now it appears that Howard Joseph Kendrick, III will man first base for the time being, with fun sleeper Gaby Sanchez waiting in the wings and stepping in at DH. Both guys should improve off of nice 2011 seasons with better bats in their lineups; having Reyes up top will give Sanchez someone to knock in, and having Pujols hitting behind him will give Kendrick the opportunity to score runs.
The rest of the infield is made up of guys that will contribute fairly well--Phillips and Cabrera up the middle is at worst, league average--and still has potential breakout star Matt Wieters behind the plate. I know we've been talking about Wieters as the newest star since Kevin Maas wore a jock strap, but in his age-26 season, if he's going to blossom, this will be the season it happens. Even if Wieters simply plays to his 2011 line, however, it's still reasonable production from the catcher spot, which means the team is treading water at a fairly thin position.
It's not every year that your best player gets a new first name in the offseason, but masher Giancarlo Stanton has the potential to mash in a new ballpark that, by all accounts, is going to yield a lot of dingers. Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran are nobody's idea of stud outfielders but the former should provide solid numbers--also in a hitter's park--while the latter is a fun candidate to mash and rebound if healthy. Which as every Met fan can tell you is a big if.
While this squad lacks depth--we will ignore John Danks and Mike Leake, because he should too--the top of the staff is just filthy. Shields and Lincecum embrace good stats and probability as well as any top 2 duo, and if we stopped there, this squad would be in decent shape. It's the next two starters that may dictate this team's fortunes. Strasburg can be great, can be serviceable, or can be injured. What he is not likely to be is hurtful and morph into Oliver Perez--the worst case scenario is that he gets hurt and they have to scramble for a 3rd starter. Clay Buchholz is a fun rebound candidate that can, if he stays healthy and avoids KFC, provide excellent production from the 4th spot. This team may need to pick up a Ted Lilly-style innings eater during the year to sop up the remaining innings, but this is a great place to start.
The Achilles' heel of the team, which already has one fallen closer (Joakim Soria) and another reliever who may or may not be closing for the Reds (Aroldis Chapman). Saves are the easiest category to add, and for this team to compete, it'll have to snag a closer off the waiver wire or make a trade.
I can't believe I'm writing this but: I like this team. The starting pitching has the potential to be excellent. They have basestealers and mashers. They have a bunch of hitters in hitter's parks. They do not have a sinkhole at a single position. Their biggest flaw is the lack of a closer, which is the easiest to remedy during the season. I'm not quite ready to put them in the money at this point, but for the first time in franchise history, I think this is a contender.