Keidel: Things Are Looking Up For NYC Sports In 2020

Yankees, Nets Biggest, But Not Only, Reasons For Optimism 

Jason Keidel
December 31, 2019 - 3:20 pm
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As we seal the lid on one year and crack the seal on another, it's a good time to wonder how different our sports scene will look in 2020 than it did in 2019.  With apologies to hockey fans, we will keep the scope to our six squads from the NFL, MLB, and NBA.

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JETS

A team used to turmoil, the Jets hired a head coach, Adam Gase, and then months later fired their general manager, Mike Maccagnan, who had drafted their crop of college players and signed most of their free agents. So there's little about the Jets that lands on normal. 

So considering their annual dysfunction — plus the fact that Sam Darnold contracted mononucleosis —  the Jets' 7-9 record is pretty impressive. They went 6-2 in the second half of the season, the second-best mark in the NFL behind only the Baltimore Ravens (8-0). Since the NFL flexed its slate to 16 games, there have been 111 clubs to start a season 1-7 (as the Jets did this year), yet only six teams finished 7-9 or better.  

Sam Darnold drops back to pass against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 29, 2019, at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York.
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Jets also suffered a laughable litany of injuries to key players. According to a Dec 19 piece from Sports Illustrated, the Jets had lost 222 game appearances due to injury. It represents nearly 14 full regular seasons of injury games. Only the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks suffered more mangled limbs than Gang Green. 

The Jets have a franchise quarterback. They have the best safety in the NFL in Jamal Adams. They have more answers than questions on defense. They should have about $50 million in cap space to address the holes in their roster to go with their first draft under new GM Joe Douglas. And with Tom Brady clearly and finally in decline, Gang Green is looking at greener pastures.

GIANTS

Other than a few fine moments from their freshman quarterback — plus one fine farewell from their old quarterback — nothing about this season was memorable for the Football Giants. They finished with a worse record this year (4-12) than they had last year (5-11). Their lack of improvement got coach Pat Shurmur canned and plants GM Dave Gettleman squarely on the hot seat. 

A team historically renowned for robust defenses, the Giants hemorrhaged yards and points. Since Gettleman’s arrival in December 2017, they’ve let go of stalwart players, from Landon Collins to Damon “Snacks” Harrison to Jason Pierre-Paul, and the crop of kids who replaced them did not get the job done. If the Giants want to make any moves toward the top of their division, they will need to do better than 25th in total yards allowed, 28th in passing yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. Rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence looks like a solid player, while fellow first-rounder cornerback DeAndre Baker finished with mixed results. 

The Giants have spent two years beefing up their offensive line with few tangible improvements. Nate Solder is all but a bust as a pricey free-agent signing, and Will Hernandez is solid but not spectacular. The Giants were 20th in sacks allowed per game (2.7) and finished the season giving up four brutal sacks by the Eagles. 

But if quarterback Daniel Jones improves on his promising rookie season, running back Saquon Barkley starts next season the same way he finished this one and tight end Evan Engram returns to full health, the G-Men should be pretty potent on offense. They need another draft to say the same of their defense. 

YANKEES

The Yankees are really good. And they just got really better by plucking the biggest log from the hot stove all season when they bagged ace pitcher Gerrit Cole. 

Despite smashing the MLB record for player trips to the injured list, the Yankees won 103 games and bashed 700 homers, and seemed to have a laughable litany of subs who played like stars. Even when they lose a fine player and fabulous clubhouse presence in shortstop Didi Gregorius, they replace him with an even better player in Gleyber Torres. 

The Yankees' Gleyber Torres follows through on his second-inning home run against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2019.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There's no nuance here. The Yankees are loaded. They filled the only hole in their roster —  starting pitching. The only reason they didn't reach the 2019 World Series is because Houston had Cole and the Bombers didn't. Now the Yanks have Cole and the Astros don't. Unless there's an even bigger, biblical plague of wounded stars, the Yanks can punch and laminate their ticket to the 2020 Fall Classic. 

METS

After a woeful first half of the 2019 season, the Mets surged to a startling start of the second half, which propelled them to a respectable 86-76 record. Jacob deGrom followed up his historic Cy Young season by snagging a second Cy Young Award. It wasn't enough to save manager Mickey Callaway's job, but new skipper Carlos Beltran has the chops and the universal respect to lead the club in 2020. 

The Mets lost Zack Wheeler to the Phillies, who drastically overpaid for the pitcher. But the rotation still has a firm core in deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz. And the team replaced Wheeler with Michael Wacha and 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. So the Mets’ starting pitching should be among the best in the National League. 

The Mets also have a surprising stack of lumber, led by young stars Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, with Alonso leapfrogging Aaron Judge to set the all-time home run record for a rookie. With McNeil spraying line drives all along the diamond and Alonso swatting him home, the Mets should stop losing all those one-run games when deGrom starts. 

Where the Mets really need help is the bullpen. Their biggest trade in the offseason last year was for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, which blew up in their faces. The Mets can absorb Cano as he ages, but Diaz must find the groove that made him the best closer in MLB two years ago, or else the Mets will blow those one-run leads in the ninth inning. 

KNICKS

If the Yankees are the flag bearers of NYC sports, the Knicks dwell in the dungeon. They hired coach David Fizdale to attract big-ticket free agents, then none of them signed with the team. Then they fired Fizdale. But not even Red Auerbach could win with Julius Randle as their most productive player. Little more than a role player with the Lakers, Randle leads the Knicks in points and rebounds, which is bad. Yet he also leads the Knicks in assists, with a paltry 3.3 dimes per game. 

The Knicks are hopeful about rookie RJ Barrett, but then again, they were pretty psyched about Kristaps Porzingis, who fled the franchise the first moment he could. The team has suffered its worst season (17-65) twice over the last five years. At 9-24, they are headed down the same dreaded road toward the lottery. The only reason the Knicks aren't in their customary position —  last in the Eastern Conference — is the Hawks have won two fewer games. 

NETS

Brooklyn reeled in the two players the Knicks couldn't when they added Kyrie Iriving and Kevin Durant in free agency. Only problem is Durant needs a year to heal his snapped Achilles tendon and Irving is at his weirdo best. Whether he refuses to peel off his hat for a team photo or adds weeks to an injury that none of us really understands, Irving has found new ways to be enigmatic. But he's so electric on the court, his eccentric ways are indulged. 

Oct 25, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving (11) controls the ball against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets have stayed afloat on the skills of Spencer Dinwiddie — who has made it easy to forget the departed D'Angelo Russell — and the physical play of Jarrett Allen. Even old-timer DeAndre Jordan has chipped in over 10 boards per game. With Irving starting just 11 games this year, it helps that the Nets have seven players averaging double-digit points.  

Even with the twin stars on the shelf and fresh off a three-game skid, the Nets are 16-16 and in the thick of the playoff chase. Sadly, they still shrink in the shadow of the Knicks, even as MSG morphs from the Mecca to the Mausoleum of basketball. But a playoff berth this season would be quite an accomplishment and a strong prelude to a stronger 2020, when Irving and Durant take the reins and form one of the most talented hardwood duos in the NBA. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.

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