Monday, May 09, 2022

The Mets are 20-10; should I be worried?

My wife is a Red Sox fan. I've dealt with this by declaring them my favorite American League team (I can no longer call it the "Phony Baseball League" now that the National League has adopted the execrable Designated Hitter Rule). For my Tampa friends: my excuse is that the Rays didn't exist when I lived there. I root for the Rays when they play anyone except the Mets or -- well, when they play the Red Sox I keep very quiet.

Anyway, Martha believes that when the lads from Fenway get off to a hot start, they are doomed to a late season collapse. Last year at this time I posted that the Mets were first in the NL East. They managed to cling to that position until early August, largely because they were in a weak division. I recall some pundit writing, while the Mets were still cruising, something like "until the inevitable implosion." He was right; they finished third in the division, with a 77-85 record.

This year I again decided to wait until a month had passed since the season opener before trying to get a sense of how good the team is and what its weaknesses might be. As it stands, things are looking good. Two months from now I may regret these words; after all, these are the Mets, a team I once described as having the "ability to rouse hopes, then smash them like cheap china."

I had some trepidation as the Mets opened their season on the road against Washington. Ace starter Jacob deGrom was recovering from surgery and unlikely to pitch until June. New manager Buck Showalter called on Tylor Megill (photo), who began his career in the majors with the Mets last year when he was called up on June 21. He pitched eighteen games in 2021 and had a season record of four wins to six losses, with an earned run average of 4.52, and 99 strikeouts over 89 2/3 innings pitched. Not stellar stats, but he did pitch six scoreless innings in a game against the Blue Jays. Showalter's decision proved good when Megill pitched five scoreless innings in a 5-1 Mets win over the Nationals in the 2022 opener. On April 29, at Citi, Megill would pitch five hitless innings against the Phillies, and the bullpen would continue for a combined no hitter and a 3-0 Mets win.

Looking at the Mets' record to date several things stand out. They have yet to lose a series, although they were tied in a four game series with Atlanta at Citi. They have also not yet swept a series. Their longest winning streaks, of which they have had three, were for three games. They have only once lost two in a row; that was the final game of their season opening series at Washington followed by the opener of their series at Philadelphia. 

Statistically, they look good on all fronts. Mets pitchers have an average ERA of 3.24, second best in the National League. Their starters so far look very good with the exception of Taijuan Walker, whose 4.91 ERA is the result of six earned runs allowed over four innings in a game against the Phils at Citizens Bank Park that the Mets, trailing 7-1 going into the ninth, won 8-7. 

Their team batting average of .255 is also second in the NL. Of their regular starters, second baseman Jeff McNeil has the best average, .323, with ten RBIs and one homer. First baseman Pete Alonso has a .276 average and seven homers. The Mets' total of 25 homers is seventh in the NL, but they're second overall in runs scored, with 136. They haven't been overly reliant on the long ball.

The Mets' stats on defense aren't as reassuring as those for pitching and for offense, but still aren't bad. Twelve errors, four charged to shortstop Lindor, puts them fourth in the NL, but their fielding percentage of .989 ranks third. 

On the upside, we look forward to the return of deGrom to what is already a very effective starting rotation. What's not to like? There is some stiff competition. In the Mets' division there are the defending world champions, the Atlanta Braves, who at present have a 14-16 record and are six games behind the Mets. However, things were similar at this time last year. Then the Braves got hot and the Mets collapsed. On the West Coast are all the pundits' favorites to win the NL crown and perhaps the World Series, the Dodgers. Their 19-8 record is better than the Mets'. Then we can't forget the crosstown rivalry. The Yankees today sport the best record in the majors, 20-8. The Mets have two two game series against the Yanks: at Citi on July 26 and 27, and at Yankee Stadium on August 22 and 23. For some of us Mets fans -- maybe for most -- having a winning record against the Yanks is almost as important as the overall season record. Then there's the prospect, not entirely unlikely, of another Subway Series, in which victory for the Mets would assuage the lingering pain of 2000, but a loss would be unspeakably depressing.

The big question mark hanging over any Mets season is what the pundits call the "injury bug." I once speculated as to why the Mets seemed, season after season, to be plagued by injuries. At the close of my post, I asked if it could be shown statistically that they are more injury prone than most teams. In 2019 a writer for the Lineups website claimed that it's true, but cited anecdotal rather than statistical evidence. In any event, I can only hope it's not a factor this year.