Should You Believe in the New York Mets?
The hottest team in baseball is the New York Mets.
That sentence probably has not been written since sometime in the 2007 or 2008 season, the last time New York contended for the National League East title. Of course, the Mets suffered a catastrophic collapse to the Philadelphia Phillies in the final month of '07 and were overtaken again by Philadelphia at the end of '08. Sorry for any Mets fans reading this. I should have warned you I was going to do that.
Is 2015 the year they return to baseball relevancy? Well, 13 games into the season, things are looking good.
After pounding the Miami Marlins 7-6 on Sunday, New York has won eight straight games, their longest winning streak since June of 2010. Their 10-3 record puts them atop the NL East with the best record in baseball, matching the best start in team history with the 1986 and 2006 squads, both of whom won division titles (that '86 team did a bit better, in fact). It was also their first four-game sweep of a team since they took four in a row from Cincinnati in July of 2011.
So yeah, Mets fans are a little stoked at the moment.
Of course, it being the Mets and all, Sunday's eighth straight win did not come without some bad news. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who had gotten off to a hot start this year, was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning and broke his hand. There is no timetable yet for his return. And lefty reliever Jerry Blevins was hit by a line drive on his forearm, resulting in a bone break that will also leave him out of action for quite some time.
That's on top of the team putting third baseman David Wright on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler due to elbow surgery. d'Arnaud was 13-for-31 on the young season, hitting .317/.356/.537 with two home runs and 10 RBI. Blevins, meanwhile, had retired all 15 batters he had faced so far this season, 14 of them left-handed.
It was a heavy price to pay for an eighth straight win.
d'Arnaud will be replaced by the team's number-two prospect, Kevin Plawecki, ranked by Baseball America and MLB.com as the 63rd-best prospect in all of baseball. In four minor league seasons, Plawecki has a slash line of .293/.368/.436, and between Double-A and Triple-A last year he hit .309/.365/.460 with 11 homers, 24 doubles, 30 walks, and 48 strikeouts in 419 plate appearances.
Plawecki is going to be the Mets' everyday catcher moving forward, so he's definitely someone to snag off the waiver wire as soon as possible.
But how has New York done it so far? For the most part, with outstanding starting pitching.
The Mets have the third-best starters' ERA in the National League at 2.84. Only the Cardinals and Padres have been better. And individually, four of the five spots in the rotation have been lights-out.
All the talk this season has been about Matt Harvey, and he has been outstanding, although he gave up four runs on Sunday after being staked to a 7-1 lead. Last year's Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom is proving to be the real thing, with Jonathon Niese and Bartolo Colon also pitching in with solid starts to the season.
Offensively, last year's 30-home run man Lucas Duda has picked up right where he left off, hitting a robust .347/.396/.551, newly-signed Michael Cuddyer is hitting .333/.388/.511, and Wright was at .333/.371/.424 before he got hurt. They're not pounding the ball out of the park (just nine dingers in 13 games), but their 57 runs scored is enough to lead the NL East, and their run differential of plus-16 trails only the Cardinals (plus-19) and the Dodgers (plus-17).
Is this sustainable? Maybe not. Over the last seven games, the Mets swept a three-game series from the supremely untalented Phillies, a team that could threaten to lose 100 games. And although the Marlins have the potential to be a playoff contender this year, they've gotten off to a rotten start too, now 3-10 and already seven games back in the division. The only other teams they've played were also division rivals, the Nationals and Braves, against whom they went 3-3.
The lack of power and the growing injury situation is a concern, especially as New York gets ready to play teams in the stronger NL Central and West in the coming weeks and months. But they do have a solid starting rotation led by Harvey, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
While the Mets have the potential to stay in the NL wild card hunt, I expect the Nationals to streak past them atop the division at some point soon.
But at the very least, some meaningful baseball is being played in Flushing, New York, for the first time in a very long time.