After 39 games, the Mets have a 19-20 record. This is likely not a surprise to anyone not named Brodie Van Wagenen, or perhaps to those who subscribe to his flavor of Kool-Aid. So how did they get here and what could it mean?
As in past years, the Mets seem to jump back and forth between extremes. Some days, they look like legitimate contenders. The starting pitchers have each had games when they seemed to own the opposition. Well, aside from Jason Vargas, although he’s at least looked like he’s rented the opposition at a remarkably reasonable rate a few times. Similarly, the offense has shown a better ability to put runs on the board than in recent seasons. This is no longer a team that seems to be going into the game looking to avoid a shutout, scoring a run early and then hoping it holds up. When going right, this offense is about as potent as most others in the NL, and has enough capable hitters to cover up for a slumping player, or even one who is just having an off night. This version of the Mets is somewhat new, certainly refreshing, and offers reason to expect an exciting run in the 3/4 of the season remaining.
Then there’s the other version. Whether it’s the “Oh yeah, he’s still not great yet” Noah Syndergaard, or the “Wait, wasn’t he supposed to be a good fielder” Amed Rosario, or even the “Please tell me this is just an early season slump” Wilson Ramos, there has been some all-too-familiar play, even from newer Mets, that ranges from stomach churning to terrifying. When that version of Mets players shows up, it’s hard to imagine winning a game in the final 3/4 of the season, let alone making a run at playing after regular season’s end.
The Mets have played 9 different teams in their fist 39 games, and they have a .500 record against 5 of them (Phillies, Nats, Reds, Braves, Twins). The have a sub-.500 record against the Padres, Cardinals, and Brewers, and a 1.000 winning pct. against the Marlins.
Well, here’s the encouraging news – 3 of the 5 teams against whom the Mets are playing .500 ball are owners of above .500 records themselves, including the first-place Phillies, and the Minnesota Twins who own the highest winning percentage in the majors. Before I continue, let’s allow a moment for the last part of that sentence to sink in – The Minnesota Twins can be viewed as the best team in baseball at this point. Pretty wild.
Less encouragingly – The Mets looked inferior against the last-place Cincinnati Reds, at home no less. They also looked a little out of their element against the Brewers. And while the Mets have looked incredibly strong against the AAAA-Marlins, like they’re supposed to do, they look remarkably, and frustratingly different, and less consistent, against the major league caliber teams.
I don’t usually support the notion that a team’s success is based on the play of a few key players. There are too many games, too many players, and too many variables to simplify it that much. At the same time, there are obviously some players on this team that will need to find a level of consistency in order for the Mets to have a realistic shot at the postseason.
Noah Syndergaard has been good, except for when he hasn’t. Actually, he’s even been great at times. Of course, this has become his MO. He has such great stuff and has shown a powerful ability to control a game. And then, without much warning, he has games when he’s frustratingly pedestrian. Syndergaard has some of the best stuff in baseball, and if he can put a string of starts together where he shows it, then the Mets probably have a formidable 1-2 punch.
When the Mets picked up Wilson Ramos in the offseason, it was viewed by some as a third choice, behind JT Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal. The Mets had pursued Realmuto in a trade with the Marlins but found the asking price never fit. On the flip side, they reportedly made an offer to Grandal on a multi-year deal, but that offer didn’t work for him. It would be understandable to then assume the Mets settled for Ramos. When they got him, however, it didn’t take long for the front office to play up how good of a fit Ramos could be. He had some good career power numbers, a reputation for calling a good game behind the plate, and the scouting outlook that, as long as he remained injury free (relatively, I mean he is a catcher), he could be a dependable contributor. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite panned out that way yet. Ramos hasn’t been bad, he just hasn’t been as good as the Mets were relying on him to be. There’s plenty of time left for Ramos to return to form, all while ideally remaining injury free.
Young shortstop Amed Rosario has done some things this year that made me say “Oh, this is what they mean.” When he first came up, there was much ado about his penchant for striking out. He seem to be improving on reducing that and his hitting has definitely improved. Rosario’s fielding, once of his more highly touted characteristics seems to have vanished. Mets coach, Gary Disarcina has reportedly been working with Rosario on his approach, footwork, etc. It remains to see what difference that will make. What’s easy to see, however, is the difference that a reliable shortstop can make on a team and its pitching statf.
The Mets next two games into a 15g-games stretch in which they’ll face teams that are currently under .500, although the Tigers are 18-20, so it’s possible that by the time they play each other they could be above that mark. This is the opportunity for the Mets to gain back the ground that they lost. This can be a chance for the Mets to prove that they really are a team to beat, not a team that gets beat. Or really, it’s a chance for the Mets to move way above .500 and ideally stay there.