NEW YORK -- Officially, the Mets completed the first 10 percent of their season with a 4-0 win over the Nationals at Citi Field on Sunday. Leaning upon some help from his defense, Taijuan Walker delivered seven shutout innings, and the Mets roughed up Patrick Corbin to claim a winning record by the slimmest of margins. They are 9-8.
As that record attests, things haven’t always gone smoothly for the Mets, who endured weather and COVID-19 issues that not only upended their schedule, but also -- they feel, at least -- affected their consistency. As if to prove it, they played six straight games for the first time this week and became sharper by the weekend, taking two of three from the Nationals to maintain their perch atop the NL East.
“I’m just ready to attack the meat of the schedule,” said first baseman Pete Alonso, who homered in Sunday’s win. “The start was really tough. Because of the stop-and-go nature of it, it’s been not necessarily a true baseball schedule. Whatever we went through, it was kind of tough to get our momentum and have it go continuously, but now I feel like we’re at a critical point where, as we get into the meat of the season, I’m really excited.”
There are indeed plenty of reasons for the Mets to be content upon reaching the season’s one-tenth marker. Here are 10 takeaways from that 10 percent:
1. Yes, Jacob deGrom is that good
deGrom is (probably) not going to maintain a 0.31 ERA for the entire season. But what he showed Friday in delivering statistically the finest outing of his young career was enough to prove that this could become his finest season yet. As mind-boggling as that may be for a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, it’s also important. For all their offseason improvements, these Mets are still dependent upon deGrom to succeed. They won’t get to where they want to without him at his best.
2. The rest of the rotation is plenty good, too
This projected as a strength of the team heading into the season, and not only because of deGrom. Walker’s seven shutout innings on Sunday lowered his ERA to 2.14, while Marcus Stroman sits just north of that at 2.25. The Mets have ranked in the Top 5 in the Majors in rotation ERA for most of the season, despite playing all of it without No. 2 starter Carlos Carrasco, who is due back in mid-May. That trend offers evidence that the Mets’ early success is sustainable.
3. The defense is … complicated
The Mets were never going to be a great defensive team. They didn’t look like one heading into the season, and they proved those projections right with a difficult first month -- most notably committing six errors during a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field last week. The Mets entered Sunday’s play 27th in the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved, which is about where they’ve ended up every year since 2017.
But the Mets did offer some glimpses of improvement in Sunday’s win. In the third inning, Michael Conforto, who had committed a pair of misplays in a loss the night before, started a 9-4-5 relay to cut down Victor Robles at third base. In the sixth, center fielder Albert Almora Jr. -- making his first start of the season -- made a sensational leaping grab to save two runs for Walker.
Manager Luis Rojas does have ways to improve this unit, mostly by choosing to give Almora (in center) and Luis Guillorme (at third base) more starts. But most days, the Mets will rely on their offense to be potent and their pitching staff, which entered Sunday’s play ranked second in the Majors in strikeout rate, to keep the ball out of play.
Said starting third baseman J.D. Davis: “I think we’ll be just fine as a team.”
4. Third base belongs to Davis … ish
Nowhere is that balance between offense and defense more precarious than at third, where Rojas faces a daily decision of whether to start Davis, Guillorme or Jonathan Villar. He chose Davis on Sunday, and Davis responded with his fourth homer off Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin since 2019. “It’s just one of those things that I see the ball well off him,” Davis said.
Earlier this week, Davis committed three of the Mets’ six errors in Chicago. He’ll need to become a more consistent defender if he wants to continue drawing most of the starts at third, but for now, his bat remains too productive for Rojas to remove.
5. Brandon Nimmo is a bona fide star
Had the Mets acquired George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr. or some other outfielder this winter, it would have most overtly affected left fielder Dominic Smith. But it also would have cut into Nimmo’s playing time, robbing him of a chance to achieve exactly what he has. Now well-established as the Mets’ everyday leadoff hitter, Nimmo ranks second in the National League in on-base percentage. He could challenge for the OBP title if he keeps playing well against left-handed pitchers (.533 OBP so far).
6. Francisco Lindor is human
The Mets’ $341 million man hasn’t hit much yet, with merely a .210/.324/.274 slash line, one home run and two extra-base hits in 17 games. Lindor singled on a Corbin slider in the fifth inning Sunday for just his second hit off a breaking pitch this season. It’s a problem that has dogged Lindor throughout his career, with a .231 lifetime average against sliders and curves.
Even so, it’s an issue Lindor has been able to overcome in the past. While working through it, he has demonstrated excellent plate discipline and mostly solid defense at shortstop. The Mets don’t have any concerns over his long-term outlook.
7. Conforto will also be just fine
Quietly, Conforto is batting .290 with four extra-base hits over his past nine games after recording just three hits in his first eight. Much of the early narrative has surrounded Conforto’s defense, particularly after he misplayed two balls in Saturday’s loss. But he also homered in that game, and he began Sunday’s excellent relay to cut down Robles at third. Once again, the greater sample size here offers plenty of reason for optimism.
8. Alonso is back
Unlike in 2020, Alonso is once again routinely driving the ball to straightaway center and right-center field. His solo homer off Corbin on Sunday fell just to the left of the Home Run Apple, giving him 74 for his career -- six more than any other Major Leaguer since his career began in 2019. Alonso credits it to his ability to choose the proper pitches at which to swing, rather than at more difficult offerings in the strike zone.
“It’s because I’m a little bit more relaxed,” Alonso said. “And also, I’m sticking to my game plan.”
9. James McCann is who we thought he was
When McCann signed a four-year, $40.6 million contract to be the Mets’ catcher, most scouting reports pegged him as a strong defender with an accurate arm who could nurture a pitching staff, hit lefties and, every once in a while, do some damage against right-handed pitchers as well. Through 17 games, he has been exactly that. All four of McCann’s RBIs have come against lefties, while his most significant contributions have occurred behind the plate: throwing out Trevor Story to end last Sunday’s win in Denver, and guiding Mets pitchers to a 3.25 ERA.
10. Edwin Díaz might be elite again
Outside of one early hiccup in a game the Mets were already losing, Díaz has been routinely unhittable, going 2-for-2 in save opportunities with a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out 12 batters in eight innings as he continues making 2019 look like the outlying season of his career. The Mets once again have implicit trust in Díaz to nail down what they hope will be many more wins to come.