With a tenth of the season under their belts, the New York Mets have — wait for it — the best record in baseball. At 13-3, they lead the National League East by four and a half games. They’re in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, each win coming against teams within their division; this includes a four-game sweep of the Florida Marlins, and covers the entirety of a 10-game homestand, which ended with Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Braves. The Mets seem to have officially turned the corner into the realm of legitimate contention, and people around baseball have begun to take them seriously. Moreover, they seem to take themselves seriously as contenders, the culmination of a lengthy and fitful road back to self-respect that began a couple of years ago. Most impressively of all, these Mets are proving they can win different kinds of games, in different kinds of ways, with different kinds of contributions.
First of all, the Mets are a pitching-oriented team, and they’re showing it. They’re second in Major League Baseball in ERA, and they’ve walked the second-fewest batters. Ageless wonder Bartolo Colon is pitching like an ace yet again, with four wins and a .88 WHIP. Dillon Gee has battled just effectively enough to keep the Mets in his starts, and lefty Jonathon Niese sports a 1.50 ERA as he’s pitched his way out of numerous jams. Best of all, with the impressive return of Matt Harvey and the stellar sophomore year of Jacob deGrom, the Mets have two of the best starters in all of the National League. DeGrom has thus far posted a stupefying 0.93 ERA, and Harvey leads the team with 24 strikeouts. Every three games, the Mets can trot out two consecutive starting pitchers who are among the surest things in baseball right now. The Mets bullpen also has been stellar, anchored by Jeurys Familia, who’s striking out 11.17 batters per nine innings and already has eight saves.
One of the most impressive things about the Mets’ current run is they’re doing it with key players injured or slumping. David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud were sent to the disabled list during productive stretches; rookie Kevin Plawecki and journeyman supersub Eric Campbell have stepped up in their absence. Curtis Granderson has only this week begun to find his stroke at the plate, but his key walks have extended innings and led to rallies. Widely doubted shortstop Wilmer Flores, after a nerve-wracking start, has begun to show flashes of power while he shows off his underrated athleticism in the field. Even more widely doubted shortstop Ruben Tejada, though only hitting .214 so far, broke open a game this weekend with a bases-clearing double. Michael Cuddyer, who’s given the Mets a boost in presence and credibility regardless of his numbers, is struggling at the plate more than his .273 average would indicate. Daniel Murphy, before his bases-clearing double yesterday, was mired in an uncharacteristically dreadful slump. Still, the Mets are ninth in baseball in runs scored, and have come back from multiple deficits to win games. All told, 14 different Mets have an RBI this season, including Colon, whose newfound prowess at the plate is already the stuff of legend.
A bona fide slugger
Day by day, Lucas Duda is accumulating believers in his legitimacy as a Major League slugger. Duda is hitting .351, and despite only a single home run, he leads the Mets with 30 total bases. His .439 on-base percentage also leads the team, and he’s tied for second with nine runs driven in. Duda is combining a good eye with selective aggressiveness at the plate, shift-busting with line drives to left when needed and continuing to hit rockets to the right side. Duda has also played well at first base, showing athleticism, great hands and a surprising ability to turn the double play as a righty. Lucas Duda has confirmed himself as a player worth watching, and he’s anchoring a lineup that’s finding ways to get it done even with missing parts.
Winning in different ways
The Mets are near the bottom of baseball in home runs, yet they’re well-timed home runs, as with Flores’ game-tying two-run shot against the Braves at Citi Field. The Mets have manufactured scoring with the hit & run, and they’ve walked multiple times in an inning. They’ve hammered balls into gaps, and yesterday they drove Braves starter Julio Teheran’s pitch count to triple-digits by the fourth inning. They’ve extended their winning streak with two-out rallies, late-inning rallies and early-inning flurries. They’ve had great starting pitching, and they’ve brought in situational relievers like Buddy Carlyle to stop opposing rallies. They’ve overcome missed chances and errors, and they’ve made fantastic plays in the field, like Lagares’ Willie Mays impression earlier this week.
During their 11-game run, as manager Terry Collins noted, “we didn’t crush the ball … what we did is we moved guys along, we got base hits when we needed ’em, we capitalized on mistakes by the other team.” All while several marquee players are out with injuries like d’Arnaud and Wright, or struggling like Cuddyer and Murphy. “I still think there’s some offense that we’re gonna see,” Collins continued, and there’s reason to believe he’s right. In the meantime, this is a team that’s finding ways to win, with contributions coming from up and down the lineup and no reliance on a single player.
The power of belief
No matter what the score, what the count and what the conditions, the Mets seem to truly believe they’ve got a shot in every game they play. This is the kind of thing that happens over time. In recent years, as they scrapped their way toward relevance, the Mets would at times lose games it seemed like they had in the bag; this often came after flashes of promise, even brilliance, where they showed glimpses of a promising future. Now, the Mets seem to have a knack for winning games they have no business winning. In recent seasons, the Mets mounted furious comebacks only to give games back at the end. Now, the Mets get just enough hits and make just enough plays to hold on. The energy at Citi Field is different than it’s been in almost a decade, and the Mets and their fans are feeding off of each other’s energy.
As everyone is pointing out, it’s very early in the season. But the Mets have played through injuries and slumps, and they sit atop the Major League standings with a sense of momentum and possibility. This is a team that, at last, truly believes it can contend. The next step is to keep on proving it.