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Now the fun starts: Mets poised for 2021 contention | amNewYork

Now the fun starts: Mets poised for 2021 contention

Mets preview
Illustration by Joe Pantorno/AMNY

Ahead of the 1983 Major League Baseball season, the New York Mets’ advertising team launched a campaign centered around the exclamation of, “Now The Fun Starts!” — imploring that better times were on the horizon for a ballclub that had finished in fifth or sixth (last) in its division in seven of the previous nine years.

The Mets came nowhere close to living up to that hype, going 68-94 that season and finishing in last yet again, but it was a benchmark year that saw the debut of Darryl Strawberry and the acquisition of Keith Hernandez; two vital members of the 1986 World Series-winning team.

Fast-forward 38 years and it might be time to dust off that slogan.

In a matter of six months, the Mets have transformed from expectation-whiffing laughing stocks to legitimate contenders not only for the National League East but for the pennant.

It all stems from the arrival of, Steve Cohen, the hedgefund billionaire with a net worth of over $14 billion who is now by far the richest club owner in the game.

With his arrival came lofty expectations — ones he recognized and set on his team.

“You want us to win the World Series, and so do I,” Cohen said. “New York fans have high expectations, and I want to exceed them. I want them to be great every year. I don’t just want to get into the playoffs. I want to win a championship.

“I’m not in this to be mediocre. I want something great, and I know the fans want something great. That’s my goal, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

With former general manager Sandy Alderson now helping to pull the strings as team president, the Mets were some of the biggest spenders on the market this winter, acquiring superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians alongside starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco.

They found their everyday catcher in James McCann, considered to be the second-best option available on the market.

They acquired some of the best bullpen talents available in Trevor May and Aaron Loup.

In came center fielders, Albert Almora and Kevin Pillar. In came pitchers, Taijuan Walker and Joey Lucchesi.

Cohen and the Mets were legitimately active unlike feigning interest in competing in years past, all while adding to a promising core that already features cornerstones in Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, slugger Pete Alonso, and All-Stars like Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” Alonso said. “We have such a talented lineup with the new additions and with that, there are expectations to win and for me, I just want to be locked in and ready to go.”

Plenty of projections have the Mets finishing near the very top of the NL East, but this division will be an absolute rock fight in 2021.

The Atlanta Braves are the reigning division champs and are the favorites until proven otherwise behind the dynamic trio of Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies.

In the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals are just 18 months removed from winning the World Series, boasting a dynamic threesome of starters in Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg. They also have one of the early frontrunners for the NL MVP award in Juan Soto, considered by many to be one of the best hitters in the game at just 22 years old.

One still can’t count the Philadelphia Phillies out, either. Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins are a slugging dynamic duo housed in a hitter-friendly ballpark while Aaron Nola is still capable of presenting stuff worthy of entering the Cy Young conversation.

There will be some difficult navigating ahead for second-year manager Luis Rojas, who has plenty to prove after a disappointing first season at the helm during the pandemic.

“We’re excited,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “Really excited to get out there as a team and watch the guys play. I know they want to watch each other play, I know they want to be in between the lines, all those things. They’re ready to go.”

Now the fun starts.

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