Can Mets' new-look rotation lead team to division title? Will Middlebrooks believes so

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Mets fans have a newfound sense of hope following an ownership change and multiple offseason moves, including trading for superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, and Will Middlebrooks shares that optimism.

The CBS Sports baseball analyst and former big-leaguer joined Zach Gelb on WFAN this weekend to talk about the new-look Mets, and the 2013 World Series champion made it clear that he is a believer in Steve Cohen’s group.

“I think the Mets are back,” Middlebrooks said. “I really believe it. I think they’re going to win the division, and I actually believe it this year.”

Much of Middlebrooks’ confidence in the Mets lies with the team’s pitching staff, particularly a starting rotation that was bolstered over the offseason with the signing of Taijuan Walker and the addition of Carlos Carrasco, who came over with Lindor from Cleveland. But another big piece of the rotation is Marcus Stroman, who accepted the team’s qualifying offer this offseason after missing all of last season due to an injured calf and COVID-19 concerns, which led him to opt out of the shortened campaign.

“I think Stroman has a huge year,” Middlebrooks said. “I’ve gotten to know Stroman pretty well over the past year, watched a lot of video and talked about the mental side of the game a lot. He’s locked in and ready to roll, ready to throw 200 plus [innings], and I think he does it. I think his body is in the best shape.
Everybody comes to spring training and says ‘I’m in the best shape of my life,’ but I honestly think that’s the case with Stroman. You can put him at number two or number three [in the rotation].”

Carrasco will take the second or third spot in the rotation this season, and Middlebrooks believes in anyone overlooked his inclusion in the Lindor trade, they won’t once he takes the bump at Citi Field in 2021.

“I really like Carrasco as well,” Middlebrooks said. “He’s super underrated. His stuff is elite when he’s healthy. He’ll be really good.”

Walker was the rotation’s most recent addition, but Middlebrooks sees the 28-year-old as a valuable piece to the back end of the rotation, and sees the righty building on his strong finish to 2020.

“I think that’s a great signing,” Middlebrooks said. “Especially to get you to June where you’re like ‘OK we don’t know our four and five, we’ve got Walker, we’ve got Lucchesi…’ They have a ton of options. I think Taijuan Walker is going to be a really good bridge to get back to deGrom and Carrasco. There’s not really a day off when you’re facing the Mets. Walker, they said he’s got his slider at the best it’s ever been. We know he’s got a good fastball, but if he’s got that good breaking ball now, that fastball plays up even more. Now 96 feels like 98, 99, and guys just aren’t sitting on his heater.”

The bullpen still has its questions with Edwin Diaz trying to find consistency since coming over from Seattle, and Dellin Betances trying to find his rhythm after an Achilles injury that he suffered with the Yankees. But offseason additions could help stabilize the bullpen and make the Mets’ pitching staff the best in the division, and lead the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

“You know who I think was a sneaky-good signing for them in the bullpen? Aaron Loup, the lefty,” Middlebrooks said. “He’s not just good against lefties. You see a lefty in the bullpen nowadays and you think he’s just going to come in for lefties and throw slider, slider, slider, but this guy’s got reverse splits. He’s got a good slider to get lefties out, but he’s also got a good sinker and changeup to get righties out. He pitched really well in the postseason last year, so that’s going to be a good add for late in games as well.”

Listen to Middlebrooks' full interview with Zach Gelb below!

Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1

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