With a new manager, Mets hope for a bounce-back season

It’s only been three years, but it feels as if the Mets are much further removed from their appearance in the 2015 World Series, in which they fell to the Kansas City Royals in five games. In 2016, the Mets returned to the postseason, losing the wild-card game 3-0 to the San Francisco Giants. Last season was a debacle, but when they host the St. Louis Cardinals this afternoon (1:10 p.m.) at Citi Field in their season opener, the Mets hope this season will be much more fruitful.

After compiling a 10-14 record by the conclusion of April, the Mets spent only a single day at .500—they were 16-16 May 9 for the rest of the season. They ended 70-92, the fourth worst record in the 15-team National League. One of the outcomes was their 68-year-old manager Terry Collins, who had guided the team since 2011 and whose contract was up, did not receive an extension from Mets ownership.

They filled the opening by hiring Mickey Callaway, 26 years Collins’ junior, who for the previous five seasons served as the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians. “I’m probably the most excited guy you’re going to see in a long time,” said Callaway at his introductory news conference as the franchise’s 21st manager.

“We’re going to care more about the players, more than anyone ever has before,” he said. “We’re going to know that they’re human beings and individuals. And this is going to be a group that feels that every day that we come to the clubhouse, and that’s going to be our main concern. It’s to show them we know that this game is difficult and we care about you as a player, a human being, and about your personal life.”

It’s not as if Collins handled his players insensitively. The Mets fell flat a season ago primarily because their vaunted pitching staff was decimated early by injuries, not because Collins failed to channel his inner Dr. Phil. No matter how touchy-feely Callaway might be with his charges, if the Mets experience poor health again to their talented arms this season, they can expect similar results.

Starters Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz can be formidable. But since emerging in 2015 as potentially one of baseball’s best quartets, they have not met lofty expectations, stymied by injuries. Last season Syndergaard (7) Harvey (18) and Matz (13) combined for only 38 starts. The unit’s rock, deGrom, was the exception, taking the hill 31 times to go 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA and striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings, seventh best in MLB.