Exactly one third of the season behind them, the Mets are 27-27 — and trying to pinpoint a team strength is a bit of a head-scratcher.
It’s not a case of saying the Mets need to fix just one thing and they will be on their way to success.
If anything, the lineup looks better lately with Francisco Alvarez’s thunder stick, but let’s see what this group can accomplish when the rookie catcher is in the middle of an 0-fer and Pete Alonso maybe isn’t hitting a home run every other day. That’s a call to Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, Starling Marte and Daniel Vogelbach, among others.
The starting rotation has been a disappointment and the bullpen looks just kind of so-so without Edwin Diaz’s electric stuff on the back end that would have allowed David Robertson and Adam Ottavino to pitch earlier in games. The Mets have seen too much of Stephen Nogosek, Dominic Leone and Tommy Hunter, which is an indictment on a starting rotation that hasn’t worked deep enough into games.
But the Mets don’t have to look far for inspiration. At the one-third pole last season, the Braves were 27-27 before winning the NL East. The year before that, the Braves were 26-28 at the one-third marker and finished first before winning the World Series. Both times they caught and surpassed the Mets.
It’s a long season, and let’s be honest in this era of three wild-card entrants in each league: You can advance deep into the postseason and have a chance to win the World Series even with a less-than-elite team in the regular season. Exhibit A on that front will be at Citi Field on Tuesday. The Phillies got all the way to Game 6 of the World Series last year after we spent most of the summer dissecting the race between the Mets and Braves. The Phillies were a fun team to watch and had the talent but didn’t get rolling until late. By the way, they were 25-29 at the one-third marker last season.
One last example: The Nationals, with Max Scherzer, were 22-32 at the one-third pole of the 2019 season and reached the postseason as a wild card before winning the World Series.
So the Mets don’t have to look outside their own division to understand that what looks unappealing in May might be something they can laugh about in October. But there are worrisome signs with this bunch.
Justin Verlander missing the first month of the season with a strained major teres (a muscle near his shoulder blade) before returning to pitch two clunkers in five appearances in May might be at the top of the list. Scherzer had a hellish two months with physical ailments and a suspension. His health will be something to watch. Tylor Megill and David Peterson have regressed, turning what was thought to be a strength as spring training began (rotation depth) into something of a weakness. Ideally, the Mets would have had to remove Megill from the rotation kicking and screaming once Jose Quintana is ready for his Mets debut — in early July if all goes according to plan — but unless Megill rebounds soon that won’t be the case.
“I think we are a better team than what our record is right now, but it’s just going to take putting the pitching and the hitting together and I think we’ll have better results,” Brandon Nimmo said. “We feel good going up against anybody. We don’t care who they are or what their record is, we feel that if we’re clicking on all cylinders we can beat anyone.”
The biggest reason for optimism within the clubhouse?
“What the team did last year,” McNeil said, referring to 101 victories in the regular season. “The lineup is basically the same even though we have gotten a few upgrades. The pitching staff is going to be just fine. We have Scherzer and Verlander leading the way and [Kodai] Senga has been pitching well. We are going to get Quintana. We can definitely play a little better, but we have got some positives.”
As recent NL East history will attest, “some positives” at this point in the season might be all you need to have a shot at October/November glory.