Despite 'adversity,' Mets top expectations

June 15th, 2021

Meet the Mets. And greet the Mets. Just not necessarily all the ones you expected.

Francisco Lindor is still hitting under .220. Carlos Carrasco, who came with Lindor from Cleveland, still hasn't pitched. Michael Conforto, one of the best hitters the Mets have, has played just 33 games. Their starting center fielder, Brandon Nimmo, has played just 21. Jeff McNeil, a .319 hitter in his previous three years in the big leagues, has played just 31 games because of a left hamstring injury and is just starting a rehab assignment. So too is J.D. Davis, who was hitting .390 after 14 games but went on the injured list with a sprained left hand.

Seth Lugo, a crucial figure in manager Luis Rojas' bullpen, recently came back off the injured list. Rojas has patched together an outfield recently that has included Billy McKinney and Mason Williams. His outfield star is Kevin Pillar, whose personal toughness symbolizes his team's after coming back the way he has after getting hit in the face by a Jacob Webb pitch a month ago when the Mets were facing the Braves.

Even Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher on the planet, has missed time because of soreness on his right side and scared all Mets fans when he had to leave Friday night's game against the Padres because of flexor tendinitis in a right arm that had enough power and magic in it to allow the Padres just one hit across the six innings he pitched at Citi Field.

You add all of that up, and then you factor in that Noah Syndergaard is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and you probably wonder why the Mets aren't in last place in the National League East. Instead they are in first.

Not only are the Mets in first, they have been there since May 8. Does it help that they're the only team in the NL East above .500? You bet. It doesn't change the fact that the Mets, because of their injuries, have been the toughest out around.

The only first-place team with a bigger lead than the four games that the Mets had on the Phillies after Monday's play are the White Sox, who were up 4 1/2 games on Cleveland.

The Red Sox have been one of the stories of the season because of all the time they spent in first place after their 0-3 start, and the way they continue to hang in there with the Rays, who have been the best team so far, with the best record. The Giants have been a tremendous surprise being in first place in the NL West ahead of the Dodgers and the Padres.

But no team has had to overcome more than the Mets have. They really are, as a group, as tough and flinty as Pillar, who was supposed to be a role player before everybody -- including Pillar himself -- got hurt, and now has become so much more. He had the biggest hit on Monday night at Citi Field, a two-run double against the Cubs as the Mets were on their way to a 5-2 victory over a team that has been somewhat of a surprise itself.

And what made Monday night's win so impressive is that it came one day after it looked like the Mets were about to sweep the Padres before Rojas' bullpen let him down, and Fernando Tatis Jr. blew Sunday's game wide open with a late grand slam.

The Mets get hit in the face, literally. Or get punched in the face the way Tatis and the Padres did. Then they come right back again. Pillar and Jonathan Villar. José Peraza. McKinney and Mason Williams. Brandon Drury came off the bench against the Cubs to get a big RBI single as a pinch-hitter. It was his turn in that moment to be the next Met up.

I asked Luis Rojas, the son of Felipe Alou, which means the son of baseball royalty, if he would have believed it possible when leaving Port St. Lucie that his team could fight through all of these injuries and be in first place in the middle of June.

“I would have thought it would be really hard,” he said late Tuesday afternoon. “And it has been hard. But the clubhouse and the leadership we have from Francisco even with the way he has struggled offensively sets the tone for what we do on the field. We don’t look back, we don’t look down. We look forward.”

And here they are in first. Here they have been for five weeks.

Of course, none of this happens without deGrom pitching the way he has pitched. Friday night, before he left the game, he pitched in front of the biggest and loudest and most excited Citi Field crowd in two years and the Mets won again. He is still saying he expects to make his next scheduled start this week.

“The key for us is that we have stayed consistent and stayed together through adversity,” Luis Rojas said.

They have stayed together, even when some of their most important players have been apart from them. Even Alonso, the power guy in the order, spent time on the IL with a sprained hand. He’s back now, and the Mets don’t go away. Look out for them when they’re whole.