New York Mets race to NL East lead with excellent April

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the New York Mets are off to a fast start. A strong offseason put the Mets in position to contend for the National League East crown, but Jacob deGrom’s injury put a negative cloud over the franchise just before Opening Day. An injury of that magnitude has sunk plenty of Mets teams in the past but this team responded to adversity by posting a dominant 15-7 record to build a two-game lead over the Miami Marlins in the National League East.

The Mets set a franchise record by racking up six consecutive series victories, enabling them to build a solid lead over two of their chief NL East rivals in the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. That run included some statement wins, such as taking three out of four against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field and a five-run rally against the St. Louis Cardinals last Monday with two outs in the ninth inning to set up a series victory there. The highlight of April came on Friday when five Mets pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter against the Phillies, producing just the second no-hitter in franchise history.

One of the big changes for the Mets has been their offense, which has been notably more productive with runners in scoring position than they were a year ago. Jeff McNeil has bounced back nicely from a lost season, hitting .328 with a homer and nine RBIs while leading the team with a .392 on-base percentage. Francisco Lindor has also carried his strong September performance into 2022, batting .282 while tying Pete Alonso for the team lead in home runs with four and driving in 15 runs. Alonso lead the team in RBIs for the month with 15.

The highlight for the Mets in April was their pitching staff, which saw the rotation dominate even without deGrom in the opening month. Tylor Megill, who was a last-minute replacement for deGrom as the Opening Day starter, went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, striking out 27 batters in 28 innings pitched. The Mets also saw Megill throw the first five innings in the no-hitter on Friday. Max Scherzer lived up to his reputation as an ace as well, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA (which led all starters) and leading the team with 33 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. Chris Bassitt also delivered excellent performances in three of his four starts, going 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched.

The bullpen was the shakiest aspect of the Mets in April but Edwin Diaz did pick up four saves while pitching to a 1.80 ERA and struck out 17 batters in 10 innings pitched. Diaz was at his best in the ninth inning of Friday’s no-hitter, striking out the side to secure his place in the Mets’ history books. The other big bullpen winner of April was Drew Smith, who didn’t give up a run in eight appearances and racked up six holds to earn Buck Showalter’s trust as a late-inning option going forward.

The Mets will have a chance to build on their division lead in May as they kick off the month with a critical stretch that includes five more games with the Phillies and four against the Braves. The Mets will welcome the Phillies back to town on Memorial Day weekend, wrapping up four of the six series between the teams this season in a scheduling quirk. Other opponents in April include the Washington Nationals, who will play two series against the Mets in May, while there is another West Coast trip to Colorado and San Francisco as well. Former Mets’ farmhand Jarred Kelenic is set to return to Citi Field with the Seattle Mariners while the most anticipated series outside the division will be a four-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-May that could have plenty of intense emotions after a benches-clearing brawl in the final game of their series in April.

Thanks to a doubleheader on Tuesday to make up one of the games lost to the work stoppage’s postponement of the season, the Mets will play 30 games in 31 days. Going .500 in this challenging stretch would allow the Mets to enter May with a 30-22 record, which would likely do enough to keep them right in the mix for the NL East lead. This group is capable of doing better than that, however, and it is imperative that they play well given the number of games against the Braves and Phillies that they have to deal with. Failing to put away those two teams cost the Mets in 2021 so they really should be aiming for an 18-12 finish in May, which would allow them to enter June with a record of 33-19. Entering the summer months 14 games above .500 would set the Mets up for an exciting season to come.