Of the 16 teams across Major League Baseball with a record better than .500, the New York Mets, along with the Detroit Tigers are the only two with a negative run differential. Both teams have gotten on the red side of the run ledger by different means. The Mets rank in the bottom-five in the league with 293 runs scored. The teams below them, the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago White Sox, have a combined 103-145 record. The Tigers, on the other hand, have scored a robust 371 runs this year, but have seen their mediocre pitching staff allow 376 runs.
For the Mets, continuing to prevent runs should not be a problem. New York boasts one of the best young starting rotations in the league, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz combining for a 2.77 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. Furthermore, to avoid the gradual tiring of their young core of future aces, the Mets are operating with a six-man rotation with veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonathon Niese adding support on the back end. Colon has come back to Earth slightly after a month of April that saw him post a 3-1 record with a 3.31 ERA. Since April, his ERA has ballooned to 4.55, but the 42-year-old ageless wonder did throw seven shutout innings in his first July start. Niese has rebounded nicely from a 1-4 month of May that saw him post a 5.56 ERA in six starts with a 2.41 ERA over his last six outings. The fact he is 1-3 in those starts is a testament to the Mets weak offense. As Matz continues to emerge, Niese could become a tradable asset to bring in a bat.
Thanks to the outstanding pitching, the Mets are only 3.5 games behind the Washington Nationals, a team that continues to run hot and cold thanks to their own inconsistent play. The Mets are only 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs for the second National League wild card. The Mets are in this position only because of their starting pitching. To have any hope to remain in contention, the Mets must acquire a bat at the trade deadline. If they do, the Mets could pose a real problem to other National League playoff hopefuls thanks to the incredible rotation depth.
There are so many holes in the Mets’ lineup that it is difficult to decide where to start. That’s kind of what happens when your entire roster has collectively managed a .357 slugging percentage. The potentially career-ending injury to David Wright definitely looms large in the season-long slump of the offense, but there are notable disappointments across the board.
Michael Cuddyer is clearly not enjoying his departure from Coors Field. Lucas Duda has not come close to replicating his 30 home run season of 2014, but does have 22 doubles on the year. Curtis Granderson appears more than ever to have been the happy beneficiary of whatever atmospheric phenomenon causes lazy fly balls to right field to turn into home runs at an alarming rate at new Yankee Stadium. The most you can say about the rest of the Mets’ infield — Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, and Wilmer Flores — is that they generally catch the ball when it is hit to them and can be used interchangeably.
It could be difficult for the Mets to upgrade the corner outfield positions. They are committed to Granderson for another two years, and Cuddyer for another year. If the Mets can pry Justin Upton away from the San Diego Padres or Carlos Gomez away from the Milwaukee Brewers, that may be a deal worth considering. Upton and Gomez represent the only real value in the outfield that could come out of the trade market. The Cincinnati Reds may be willing to move Jay Bruce, but he is not a significant upgrade over what the Mets currently have.
Where the Mets will most likely make an upgrade is in the middle infield. Either Brandon Phillips or Ben Zobrist makes sense. Troy Tulowitzki‘s name has been bandied about for over a year, but at this point, it is hard to see the Mets being willing to part with one of their elite young pitchers to get him. Acquiring both Zobrist and Phillips makes sense as well, as Zobrist can play any infield position in a pinch. Phillips may be getting by on reputation at this point, as his power numbers have declined dramatically since slugging .457 in 2011. Zobrist makes the most sense given the fluidity of the Mets’ middle infield, and his final destination likely comes down to a bidding war between the Chicago Cubs and the Mets.
If the Mets are able to add Upton or Gomez and Zobrist, that instantly makes them a threat to make the playoffs. The division is not out of the question either, as the Nationals struggle to get the wheels to turn. If the Mets are able to reach the playoffs, they are instantly a threat to go on a run reminiscent of the run the Kansas City Royals pulled off last year. Their starting pitching is that good, and the bullpen is not too shabby either, with Jeurys Familia virtually unhittable in the closer’s role. One of the starters like Matz or Syndergaard could also transition nicely into a late-inning power arm come the playoffs.
There are still deals to be made — probably at least two — before the Mets can be considered a real threat to hang around in the playoff race into September, and if they do, the rest of the National League will be none too pleased. Starting pitching wins in the playoffs, as evidenced by last year’s World Series. The Mets have it, and it makes them a scary potential playoff opponent. Getting there, however, remains the hardest challenge, but if the Mets are able to add a bat or two, the rest of the National League’s biggest fears could be realized.