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Matt Harvey Poised to Put Up Cy Young-Worthy 2016 Season

Even out of context, the numbers were fine. Matt Harvey finished 2015 with the sixth-lowest ERA in the National League (2.71), with a strikeout an inning. He had 10 starts where he didn't allow an earned run, and three others where he allowed only one.

For a lot of guys, that's a career year. For Harvey, it was Year 1 after Tommy John surgery, a year filled with questions and restrictions and distractions.

Some of them, for sure, were self-imposed. Some of them will always be there.

But as you start thinking about Harvey and 2016, you begin with the idea that some of those questions have already been answered, and most of those restrictions and some of those distractions will go away.

You realize that Harvey had to make history to do what he did in 2015, that he had to outdo what pitchers normally accomplish in the first year post-Tommy John. Normally, it's the second year when you see the true pitcher return.

Matt Harvey isn't normal, but that just means his second year back could be something special.

His first year back earned him a trophy as the National League's Comeback Player of the Year. His second year back could well earn him something bigger.

Is it crazy to think Harvey could win the Cy Young? No, it's not. Not at all.

He finished fourth in the voting in 2013, even though his season ended in August with the elbow injury that would require surgery. He finished far behind winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and at this point it's worth noting Kershaw is the guy who will go into 2016 as the Cy Young favorite, as he does every year.

Kershaw has won the award three of the last five years, but he doesn't win every year. He didn't win last year, when Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke finished ahead of him.

This year, it could be Harvey.

He should be stronger than he was in 2015, even with the long season and short winter that comes with going to the World Series. His winter was actually more normal than the one before, because it didn't come with the final stages of rehab from surgery.

His spring training should be more normal, too, because last spring Harvey's starts were each taken as a referendum on whether he could come back strong. I remember making plans to watch his spring debut last year; I couldn't tell you (and don't care) when he'll take the mound in Port St. Lucie next month.

The early reports out of Florida say Harvey looks stronger, which is hardly a surprise.

As good as he looked last year, he did have some of the first-year-back effect, with somewhat reduced velocity and life.

"To me, Harvey had the best year of all of them last year, if only for the fact he didn't have his electric fastball," Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen told Ken Davidoff of the New York Post this week. "He didn't have his slider for a good part of the year. But he learned how to pitch. With that, that second-gear fastball that he has comes into play this year.

"Right now, he looks in great shape," Warthen added. "That's special."

It's special, because Harvey with top-gear stuff can be the best pitcher in the game. A motivated Harvey with top-gear stuff could be special.

The motivation should be no problem. As memorable as his 2015 season was, it ended with the inning Harvey would rather forget. He talked Mets manager Terry Collins into letting him try to finish Game 5 of the World Series, only to see the Kansas City Royals rally and celebrate their championship at Citi Field.

In the bigger picture, though, that game, and even that inning, are part of why Harvey can be great. He craves the big stage and all that comes with it.

He opened spring training by saying he would consider a contract extension with the Mets, according to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, but few believe he would bypass the chance to make news and history in free agency. The $150,000 Maserati he showed up in told more about him than anything he said.

He'll make $4.325 million this year, but he knows there can be much more ahead. Harvey has three more seasons of arbitration to go, but already everything he does comes with one eye on the eventual riches of free agency.

This is a challenging year for the Mets, the first one this group will face with true expectations of winning. The long season and short winter are real issues for a great young pitching staff that carried the team but also exceeded previous workload highs in 2015.

Many Mets fans weren't happy when I predicted those issues could be enough to keep this team out of the playoffs entirely. It was a prediction, not a guarantee, just as this is.

No matter what happen to the rest of the Mets, Matt Harvey is headed for a big year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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