The Mets have played through their first slate of games – four against Washington, three against Philly – and have introduced fans to a taste of how this season might shake out. Lots of great work on and off the field has helped the team gain an early lead in the standings, but some mistakes have turned close games into losses and tampered what could have been a perfect record on the road. But none of these mistakes are too big to fix.
Let’s look at the positives. Tylor Megill had two fantastic starts, one versus the Nats and one against Philly. He went 5.0 and 5.1 IP respectively, throwing around seventy pitches in each game. In both, he was charged with no runs, three hits, and no walks; against Washington he struck out six and against Philly five. For a pitcher who was not on the radar at the beginning of 2021, Megill has found himself as the darling of Mets hopefuls who see him as the future of the rotation, and he can continue to lean into that position as long as he stays on his feet and doesn’t get in his head. This sort of hype can get to a pitcher, and I would hate to see Megill succumb to it.
The wonderful thing about the Mets this year is that Megill doesn’t have to go it alone; the rotation has plenty of veteran pitchers to help him through his first year starting in the majors. Of course, Jacob deGrom is whispering in his ear from the sidelines while he recovers from injury. Megill’s had the joy of watching Max Scherzer (2-0, 3.27 ERA, 11 IP, 13 K) deal for the Mets and studying his maniacal performance on the mound. Although Scherzer had a tough first outing against his old friends in Washington, he settled into the game against Philly and got out of some real jams. Then Megill has guys like Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker to help him study his performance and learn how to shake up opponents. The bottom of the rotation performed in stellar fashion this past week, even though Walker suffered an injury that forced him out of his game early. This starting rotation has a collective ERA of 1.36 according to Fangraphs, which tops the majors.
So the hype around the starting rotation for the Mets isn’t in vain, but of course, pitching can only do so much. The team has had a history of anemia at the plate, and their lack of run support for their pitchers has become somewhat of a joke in recent years. But with the introduction of the DH into the National League, the Mets have had more opportunities to play with their lineups. Pete Alonso at the DH spot has proved productive; in the two games where he’s played the position, he’s hit a grand slam and a three-run homer. In games where Pete has played first, he’s made some notable mishaps that have allowed opponents to close the gap in the score. I think Pete fares better behind the plate than on the field, but I believe in his ability to improve at first base. The league’s new flexibility allows him more opportunities to become a power player for the Mets.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team has become a force of reckoning. The outfield has especially done well, with Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte, and Mark Canha all making clutch plays at the plate and at the fences. In the infield helping Pete, Francisco Lindor has had some ups and downs throughout the season, but he’s showing how much he wants to earn that $340 million from Uncle Steve. Eduardo Escobar has become a master at third base, keeping guys like J.D. Davis and Luis Guillorme in the dugout. And Jeff McNeil – who struggled last season and became the talk of trade rumors – has shut everyone up, hitting almost as much as Pete and homering on his birthday, making a case for remaining with the Mets in a major way.
Where the team could fill in some cracks: Their bullpen, as always. Let’s look at the positives: Edwin Diaz has closed games just fine, as he’s done since his come-to-Jesus moment back in 2020 when he shook off whatever plagued him in the previous season. Returning Met Chasen Shreve has received a kind welcome back and has done well to get the Mets out of innings where they needed a quick fix. David Peterson filled in for injury-stricken Taijuan Walker, pitching four hitless innings to remind everyone of his masterful performance in 2020. And relievers like Drew Smith and newcomer Adam Ottavino have also helped the Mets on the mound in tough situations.
But consider the rest of the pen, which has earned a collective ten runs in 9.1 innings, equalling a 9.89 ERA. (This might not be right; still, the ERA ain’t great.) Joely Rodriguez can get lefties out in a pinch, but when he’s called in to face righties or stay through more than an out, he leaves guys on the bases and sets up the next pitcher for failure. Seth Lugo still needs to find his pre-injury mojo; since returning in late 2020, he hasn’t had the same umph to his pitch and batters have been able to wail off of him. Sean Reid-Foley, once a notable rookie traded to the Mets, has had trouble living up to that old praise. The one pitcher in the bullpen in which I still have faith is Trevor May, who has had some tough outings so far this season, but I feel can bounce back if placed in the right opportunities.
Opportunity will be the key word of this season for the Mets. Where can they improve in the bullpen, when, and how? How can the team use their utility players to their best advantage? Where can the team move players around for the most effective offense and defense? Does this mean moving players to other teams? Does it mean calling players up from the minors (Alvarez, Vientos, Plummer?) Buck, Billy, and the entire Mets front office will have to make these calls and judge for themselves where the opportunities lie. The team has – as of this warm Thursday morning in New York – one of the best records in the majors, dancing with teams like the White Sox, the Cardinals, and the team to beat: The Blue Jays. Continued focus will keep the Mets on top, but anything can send them right back into the same old tired LOLMets territory where the team has wallowed for many a season. Let’s see if the team can capture the same lightning in a bottle at home as they did on the road.