By Joe Pantorno
Negotiations are on hold for at least another couple years, ownership questions can be put on the backburner, and finally, the New York Mets can just play some baseball.
The coronavirus pandemic forced a difficult offseason to last a little longer for the club, which included the unceremonious firing of Carlos Beltran just a few months after being hired as team manager because of his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Shortly after the Beltran debacle and the subsequent promotion of long-time employee Luis Rojas, the sale of the team by the Wilpon family to hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen fell through — prompting weeks of speculation on who will take over in Queens.
It’s difficult to overlook such a laundry list of issues plaguing the club, but the fact of the matter is that the Mets could be a contender in Major League Baseball’s shortened 60-game season — especially with the designated hitter making its way to the National League this season.
The Mets’ lineup becomes that much stronger with a clear and safe spot to keep the oft-injured, slugging Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup.
But a rough divisional and geographical sprint for the 2020 season will test the Mets’ mettle with 60 games in 66 days.
They’ll play each of their divisional opponents in the NL East 10 times this season, putting added stress on matchups that will be headlined by meetings with the defending world-champion Washington Nationals, the defending divisional titleholders in the Atlanta Braves, and the dangerous Philadelphia Phillies.
While it was a tale of two halves last year, including a 39-21 finish to the 2019 season, the Mets went 7-12 against the Phillies and 8-11 against the Braves. They did post winning marks over the Nationals (12-7) and the lowly Miami Marlins (13-6).
Their out-of-division matchups to come in 2020 — four games each against the teams of the AL East — won’t ease the Mets’ path to the postseason.
The crosstown-rival New York Yankees are World Series favorites coming off a 103-win season and a winter in which they signed the most coveted free-agent pitcher in ace Gerrit Cole. Last season, the Mets went 2-2 in four games against them.
Elsewhere in the division, the Tampa Bay Rays defied the laws of small-market baseball and won 96 games last year. They’re expected to be a strong contender in a sprint of a season this year.
The Boston Red Sox, despite losing Mookie Betts, still boast the likes of JD Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts while the Toronto Blue Jays have a young, up-and-coming core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio.