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First Place Mets: Why They’re Leading the NL East

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Over the last week, the New York Mets surged into first place on the back of a seven-game win streak. Despite a rough weekend in Tampa, the first place Mets still hold a half-game lead over the rival Phillies. The Mets seem to fluctuate game to game between a juggernaut World Series favorite, and a talented group that can’t get out of its own way. Let’s take a look at how the Mets find themselves in first place and where they’re headed from here.

First Place Mets: Elite Starting Pitching

The shining star of this Mets season so far has been the starting pitching. Jacob deGrom continues to be the best pitcher in baseball by a mile, and the 2-3 combination of Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker have been great, with each posting a sub-three ERA through seven starts. David Peterson has been shaky at times, but also shown flashness of greatness, as he posted 7.1 IP with 2 ER on Friday against the Rays. All told, the Mets pitching staff ranks fourth in the MLB in ERA+, according to Baseball-Reference.

That being said, the Mets are going to need some depth pieces to step up over the next week or so, as they wait for deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, or Seth Lugo to return from the injured list. Some combination of Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Robert Gsellman, and Thomas Szapucki will need to provide the team with some quality innings if the Mets are going to hold onto first place while their best arms are on the shelf.

A Reliable Bullpen

A strong corps of relief pitchers is an unfamiliar sight for Mets fans, but this year it’s been a key to their success. The core of this group has been the top five of Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, Aaron Loup, Jeurys Familia, and Miguel Castro. Each has given the Mets at least ten innings, with an ERA+ above 115. May has been especially impressive, allowing just thirteen hits and two walks over fourteen innings.

This sense of reliability was somewhat marred over the weekend in Tampa, with May and Loup giving up the lead on Friday, and a bullpen implosion allowing twelve runs on Saturday. However, this group has proved to be solid more often than not, and can count on a major upgrade with Seth Lugo’s return imminent.

Questionable Offense

By far the biggest letdown for the 2021 Mets has been the offense. Even over the seven game hot streak, the offense never fully clicked, and seemingly fell off a cliff in Tampa. Over the first month and a half of the season, every player not named Pete Alonso is either below average according to OPS+, or injured, or both. Of the Mets’ main eight position players, four are now on the injured list. To make matters worse, three of the remaining four are Francisco Lindor, James McCann, and Dom Smith, none of which holds an OPS over .650.

The Mets entered the year rightfully expecting to have one of the better offenses in the NL, with nearly all of their position players capable of posting all-star caliber seasons. If they’re going to outlast their competition over the remaining 125+ games, they’ll need guys like Lindor, Jeff McNeil, and Michael Conforto to play to their full potential.

First Place Mets: Looking Forward

In the short term, things are looking bleak on both sides of the ball. For at least a week, the Mets will need to rely on some unproven starting pitching and minor league outfielders. The so-called “bench mob” will need to keep the team afloat while they await returns from the IL. With the Phillies now just half a game behind the Mets, the team will be hard-pressed to hold onto first for much longer. However, if they can tread water for a week or two the team will still be in a position to succeed when the big guys return.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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David Murtha is an MLB writer covering the New York Mets as well as general baseball news. He is a lifelong Mets fan born and raised in Queens. He is also currently a student at Stony Brook University studying biology, and has previously written for other online publications.