NEW YORK (AP) — Back on opening day, general manager Sandy Alderson publicly challenged his New York Mets to win 90 games.
They never even made it to 80.
New York (79-83) wrapped up its sixth straight losing season Sunday since moving into Citi Field, and one more would match the longest streak of futility in franchise history. But with a promising pitching staff and some other positives to build off, the Mets are talking big about 2015.
"We're very, very close," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got a couple things we've got to get better at, but next year we're going to be in the hunt, there's no doubt in my mind."
Enhancing the lineup would be a good place to start.
New York ranked near the bottom of the National League in slugging percentage and batting average, putting too much pressure on its developing arms.
David Wright was bothered by an ailing shoulder all summer and did not play after Sept. 8. The seven-time All-Star hit .269 with eight homers and 63 RBIs in by far the worst season of his 11-year career.
Curtis Granderson provided some power but was very streaky in the first season of a $60 million contract. Fellow outfielder Chris Young, also a free-agent addition, was a bust at $7.25 million before getting released.
Shortstop and left field remain gaping holes, and New York needs to find a leadoff man.
Batting coach Dave Hudgens was fired in May and replaced with minor league hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson. Now, the Mets are talking about bringing in the fences at Citi Field again. The target area this time probably would be center field and right-center in the hopes of helping Wright and Granderson.
"I think it is likely. We made changes a couple years ago and I think that those have been received well and played well," said general manager Sandy Alderson, recently given a contract extension that runs through 2017. "I think they'll be good for the game, good for the fans, and I'm sure that one or two of our players will benefit as well."
On the plus side offensively, the Mets made a wise choice in April when they picked Lucas Duda over Ike Davis at first base.
Duda blossomed into a dangerous threat in the middle of the order, finishing with 30 home runs and 92 RBIs to rank among the league leaders in both categories.
"I think I took a step forward in the right direction," he said.
Rookie catcher Travis d'Arnaud returned from a brief demotion to the minors with a much more confident and aggressive approach at the plate. He had 13 homers and 22 doubles in 385 at-bats, reassuring the Mets he can be the future cornerstone they expected.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy, a first-time All-Star, was leading the league in hits before a strained calf landed him on the disabled list in late August.
"In spring training we had a lot of question marks on the board. We weren't sure how our catcher was going to do, 'cause he hadn't played much. He's developed extremely well," Collins said. "We didn't know who the first baseman was going to be. Now we know. We had some concerns about the back end of the bullpen. Those have been answered. So we certainly have made some huge improvements. Now we've got to move forward."
Center fielder Juan Lagares, a defensive standout, and d'Arnaud ended the season sidelined with elbow injuries. Both are expected to be ready for spring training.
Wright is rehabbing his left rotator cuff.
"I expect to go out there and have a good season next year. I expect to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing," Wright said. "I expect us to be a much better team and a playoff-caliber team."
The biggest reason for all the unabashed optimism is a talented pitching staff that should only get better next year with the return of ace Matt Harvey and closer Bobby Parnell from Tommy John surgery.
Jacob deGrom (2.69 ERA) and setup man Jeurys Familia are both Rookie of the Year contenders. Zack Wheeler had a big second half in his sophomore season, and even 41-year-old Bartolo Colon remains under contract after winning 15 games and surpassing 200 innings.
Top prospect Noah Syndergaard is on the horizon, and Jenrry Mejia converted 28 saves following a move to the bullpen.
Those young arms helped the Mets tie Atlanta for second place in the NL East, 17 games behind Washington but still their highest spot in the standings since 2008. New York improved by five wins over consecutive 74-88 records the previous two years, and Alderson figures it will take 10-12 more victories to reach the playoffs.
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said the GM will have payroll flexibility to upgrade the team through free agency or trades.
"I'm very pleased with what we were able to accomplish this year," Alderson said. "I like what we have going forward."