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Motivated Pete Alonso believes Mets are team to beat in NL East

Pete Alonso. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso hasn’t been shy about expressing his excitement about getting back to baseball.

On Friday evening at Citi Field against the Atlanta Braves, that will finally happen as the Mets open up their 60-game regular season (4:10 p.m. ET first pitch, ESPN).

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year will try to compose a suitable encore to a historic campaign last season when he set an MLB rookie record with 53 home runs. But baseball in the coronavirus era is providing anything but normalcy.

A shortened season will withhold players like Alonso from putting up such gaudy numbers while also posing the challenge of not being able to feed off fans considering games will be played in empty stadiums.

“It felt exactly like playing in the Florida State League,” Alonso said. “You can probably count how many fans are in the stands on both your hands in Florida State League games.”

Still, Alonso admitted that playing in empty ballparks has been “a little weird,” and was quick to say how much he missed Mets fans. Now, though, the 25-year-old is getting down to business amid lofty expectations surrounding his team.

“At the end of the day, we have to be motivated to try and win a ballgame,” Alonso said. “We have to be motivated to try and win a championship.”

Despite playing in the toughest division in baseball, the Mets have pieced an imposing squad that is led by a deep lineup — a stark contrast from the organization’s philosophy of pitching-first.

Alonso’s power bat is just one of the threats in New York’s starting nine that also features Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, and a pair of breakout stars in Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis.

They’re expected to carry a team that has suffered some losses in its starting rotation behind two-time defending NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. After losing Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery, the team announced Wednesday that Marcus Stroman is “week-to-week” with a torn calf muscle.

“I know Marcus is such an incredible worker. That’s the one thing when he got traded to us last year, that man works, he takes care of himself,” Alonso said. I respect the hell out of him and he’s a great teammate. I know he’s going to be back very soon.”

Based on his team’s offensive prowess, though, Alonso still believes the Mets are the team to beat in a loaded National League East that features the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, a 97-win Atlanta Braves squad, and the Bryce Harper-led Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think we have an extremely dynamic lineup. When we’re hitting on all cylinders, we are extremely dangerous,” Alonso said. “We have a really well-balanced lineup. There’s no easy out.”

“I think we have the pieces to do it. I think we have everything that it takes.”

Alonso and the Mets showed flashes of doing just that last season behind a 39-21 stretch to end the year. It wasn’t enough as they finished three games back of the final NL Wild Card spot.

“Falling short of the postseason leaves a sour taste,” Alonso said. “We don’t want to leave anything in question. We want to do it, we want to be there, we want to compete for a championship.

“I think we bottled the feeling of going home in September and not playing in October. We’re all extremely motivated and we’re going to find out a lot about our character. We have the pieces, we just have to out between the lines and do it.”

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