NEW YORK -- As with everything this time of year, the caveat is that it’s early. Very early. In some cases, what we’ve seen over the first week of the regular season will hold true into September. In many cases, it will not. Still, the Mets have given us a glimpse into their identity over a 5-2 start, so with that in mind, here are three reasons to be confident going forward … and three reasons for concern.
Three reasons for confidence
1. The lineup looks legitimate
This is not just another ode to Pete Alonso, though he’s been a significant factor. With Alonso looking like a National League Rookie of the Year candidate and Jeff McNeil raking, the Mets have demonstrated genuine improvement in their starting eight. Wilson Ramos and Michael Conforto have also hit well, albeit not for much power. Within Mets circles, there is little doubt Robinson Canó and Brandon Nimmo will snap out of early slumps. Even without those two producing much, the Mets have averaged 5.29 runs per game -- eighth in the league entering their off-day Friday. For a team that ranked 19th in runs per game (4.35) over the previous two seasons, that’s a significant uptick.
2. The roster has multiple dimensions
In the past, the Mets attacked teams with home runs. These Mets are different. They have fewer homers (four) than wins (five) so far this season, due in part to a more situational approach. According to Statcast data, the Mets have more opposite-field hits and a higher percentage of opposite-field hits than every team but the Brewers. The Mets are also stealing bases at a slightly higher clip than last year and feature more athleticism up and down the roster. Manager Mickey Callaway has been aggressive with his double switches and defensive replacements, with Dominic Smith and Keon Broxton giving the Mets strong end-of-game options.
3. Let’s talk about starting pitching
Jacob deGrom is a stud. There’s little left to say about the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, who hasn’t allowed a run for 26 consecutive innings. Behind him, the Mets received a fine start Thursday from Noah Syndergaard, who hit 100 mph on the radar gun and appears primed to settle in as a legitimate No. 2 starter. Steven Matz also quelled worries with a reasonably strong start in his first outing, giving the Mets confidence that his rough spring was an aberration. And while Zack Wheeler gave up four runs in five innings in his lone start so far, he also struck out seven and flashed plus-plus stuff all game. He should be just fine.
Three reasons for concern
1. Let’s talk about starting pitching
Wait, what? For as good as deGrom has been, and as much promise as the next three pitchers in the rotation have shown, some legitimate concern exists at the back end. Jason Vargas only gave up two runs in his debut against the Marlins, but was hit hard all game. He’ll need to prove himself after posting a 5.77 ERA last season.
Behind him, the Mets feature almost no proven rotation depth. Hector Santiago was roughed up at the end of Spring Training, and walked three batters in five innings on Triple-A Opening Day. Walker Lockett didn’t break camp with his Minor League teammates due to a shoulder injury. Kyle Dowdy went to the Rangers on a waiver claim. The bright spot is Corey Oswalt, who ended last year strong and added velocity this spring. But the Mets will need more than six starters over the course of the season, and don’t appear particularly inclined to invest in free agent Dallas Keuchel.
2. The bullpen is struggling
This might be the most concerning element of the Mets’ season to date. Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Luis Avilán have all had issues, pressing closer Edwin Díaz into more work than the Mets would like. And while Diaz is 3-for-3 in save opportunities, he’s also been a little shaky at times himself. For these bullpen arms, there’s no rest for the weary. Four of the Mets’ seven relievers have appeared in more than half their games already.
3. The division is a problem
Mostly, NL East teams have beat up on each other so far, though they’ve also combined to go 5-2 outside of the division. As a result, the top four NL East teams are all sitting at .500 or better. It’s way too early to be scoreboard watching, but the Phillies, Braves and Nationals have shown no signs that they’ll make things easy on the Mets this summer. The Mets will need to continue taking care of business early, with 19 of their first 24 games coming against NL East opponents.