In the NFL, 8-8 epitomizes mediocrity. The same holds true in baseball, but the advantage that an 8-8 baseball team has is the remaining 146 games.
For the New York Mets, their current state of treading water is not catastrophic in the context of the entire National League essentially doing the same. No team is more than five games above .500; no team is more than four games below .500.
The Mets, however, have missed opportunities to avoid the same inconsistency and streakiness that forced them to mount a panicky sprint from mid-August 2016 to season’s end just to win a wild card spot, only to lose to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
With the 10-5 Washington Nationals venturing into Citi Field for the first showdown between the co-favorites in the National League East, the Mets are reeling. Losers of five of six – two to the lowly Philadelphia Phillies – the bullpen is battered and the injuries are mounting. Yoenis Cespedes (hamstring), Lucas Duda (hyperextended arm), Travis d’Arnaud (wrist contusion), Wilmer Flores (knee infection) and Jacob deGrom (stiff neck) are all shelved. Of all, one whose status is seemingly not in question is deGrom. He was pushed to Saturday with Matt Harvey taking his place on Friday on full rest.
The Mets’ bullpen has blown several games it could be argued they should have won. After a dramatic 16-inning win over the Marlins in Miami eight days ago, they subsequently lost the next three games, all in the late innings. In the past three games, they were lucky to not have been swept by the Phillies with only Jay Bruce’s power-hitting heroics saving them from that fate and probable full-blown panic in the media and fan base.
The Marlins are dangerous. The Phillies are not.
With the first-place Nationals coming in, is it time to panic? Is it even time to worry?
Maybe not, but there are interconnected problems that go beyond those that were inherent and expected with the way in which the team was constructed. Since their main method of scoring runs is hitting home runs, they will forever be vulnerable to power outages, particularly against the elite pitchers. With the limited number of elite pitchers in baseball, it’s not a major concern.
When speaking of elite starting pitching, the Mets enter every conversation on that topic. With that pitching, though, comes the injury history, the pitch counts and the innings limits. For example, the Mets having removed deGrom from his dominating performance against the Marlins on Saturday with fewer than 100 pitches made practical sense – it’s too early in the season to push any of the pitchers – but it has also placed an inordinate strain on an already-beleaguered bullpen. Manager Terry Collins is criticized for his overuse of relievers, but what alternative does he have when factoring in all the relevant circumstances? Jeurys Familia’s return from suspension will lower the strain and put the bullpen roles back in the preplanned alignment, but workload is a problem that could lead to punting games that would ordinarily not be conceded and doing so for the greater good.
The difference between 2016 and 2017 is that the Mets have some depth to account for injuries rather than calling up Quad-A journeyman like Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly and installing them into the lineup. For all the talk that the Mets had to trade Bruce to open a spot for Michael Conforto, and that Curtis Granderson could not play center field all year, suddenly Bruce and Conforto are both in the lineup, Granderson is back in right field, and defensive stalwart Juan Lagares is in center field.
This treading water might be of greater urgency if the the Nationals didn’t have holes of their own. Already, they’ve replaced their designated closer Blake Treinen in the role and their bullpen overall has been shaky. Trea Turner is about to go on a rehab assignment after a strained hamstring. They’ve had a best-case scenario in just about every facet of the game but for the bullpen and they’re still only 10-5 in a slow-starting National League.
While the Mets’ early-season mediocrity, injuries and ravaged bullpen appear indicative of a repeat of 2016, when it took a desperate scramble just to get to the one-game dart shot that is the Wild Card Game, they’re not there yet because the starting pitching is (mostly) intact, Familia has returned and they have the previously-mentioned depth. Plus, it’s early and the rest of the National League is facing much the same issues the Mets are.