Coming into the 2018 season, no one really knew what the New York Mets were capable of. The Mets certainly appeared to be improved on paper thanks to solid offseason acquisitions, and the prospect of better health for their pitching staff was encouraging. 2017 was such an unmitigated disaster, however, that the bar for the 2018 Mets was set pretty low. Vegas odds makers put the Mets’ projected over/under total for wins at 81, reflecting the uncertainty about the team. The Mets look like they will easily clear that bar after a strong April (with an assist from two wins in March) has them in first place in the National League East.
The Mets came out of the gates on fire, ripping off nine consecutive victories as part of an 11-1 start. That set a positive tone as new manager Mickey Callaway seemed to push all the right buttons, putting players in positions to succeed and they did just that. The Mets won their first four series of the year in easy fashion, but they did come back to earth by dropping each of the following three, blowing late leads on several occasions to cost them wins. Things got back on track in the Mets’ final series of the month, when they won only their second series in San Diego since 2004 thanks to excellent pitching from Jacob deGrom in one game and a big offensive breakout in the finale. The Mets are hoping that the explosion will carry over for the offense, which had been quiet for a few weeks after the 11-1 start.
The end result was a 17-9 record, good for first place in the division. The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have started hot, providing the Mets an early challenge, but the biggest positive is that they have created some serious distance between themselves and the Washington Nationals. The Nationals, who most pundits projected to run away with the NL East and win at least 95 games, have started slowly (partly due to a rash of injuries) and are 13-16 entering play today. That adds up to a 5.5 game lead for the Mets, including an important seven in the loss column.
The Mets have had plenty of people contribute to their hot start, but perhaps the most important batter in the lineup has been second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera has come out of the gate on fire, batting .340 with five homers and 17 RBI’s while batting everywhere from first to fifth in the batting order. Yoenis Cespedes has struck out a ton, but he has delivered plenty of clutch hits, batting .346 with runners in scoring position and leading the team in home runs (6) and RBI’s (25). Todd Frazier has handled the switch from the Bronx to Queens well, batting .256 with four home runs and 17 RBI’s while leading the team with a .395 on base percentage. Brandon Nimmo has also made the most of his limited playing time, batting .313 while getting on base at a .488 clip.
The Mets’ vaunted rotation hasn’t seen much go right outside of Jacob deGrom (3-0, 2.06 ERA) and Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 2.86 ERA), but the bullpen has more than picked up the slack. Closer Jeurys Familia has been locked in early, racking up nine saves while pitching to a 1.80 ERA in 15 appearances. The big star in the bullpen has been converted starter Robert Gsellman, who has emerged as a serious weapon for Callaway. Gsellman has been lights out, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and striking out 19 batters in 15 innings pitched while walking only six.
While the good start is key for the Mets, they do need to find a way to maintain it. May presents a challenging schedule for the Mets, who play all but six of their 29 games against teams who currently have winning records. That includes seven games against the Atlanta Braves (including a Memorial Day doubleheader to make up a rainout), six against NL West contenders Arizona and Colorado, and four in Milwaukee to wrap up their season series with the Brewers.
This is where the strong early success is key for the Mets, who now have a cushion to navigate through this tough portion of the schedule with. If the Mets can go 15-14 in May, which is essentially .500 ball, they will get through the first two months of the season with a 32-23 record, keeping them on a pace to surpass 90 wins for the year. That should be good enough to keep the Mets on track for the playoffs, but if they can do better than .500 ball the fans could be in for a fun summer.