New York Mets Survive Tough Opening Stretch

By Paul Festa
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The schedule makers weren’t kind to the New York Mets this year. They decided to make the Amazins play their first 22 games against a gauntlet of contenders, all of whom were going to run out their top starting pitchers, as all teams do during the first two weeks of the season. But the Mets, blemishes and all, ran the gauntlet and emerged with a winning record (12-10).

Their opponents during the opening stretch had a combined .552 winning percentage in 2013. The Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and St. Louis Cardinals were all expected to be good again in 2014. Thus far, those same teams have a .493 wining percentage this year, a number dragged down by the D-Backs’ 7-18 mark. Or maybe it was just those 12 Mets victories that made a dent in their records.

New York’s early success against these teams is even more of a surprise, considering most experts have the Mets pegged as a 70-75 win team this year. At times, they’ve looked every bit as mediocre as the prognosticators envisioned. Their bullpen couldn’t get anyone out during the season’s first series against the Nats, who swept all three games at Citi Field. To add injury to insult, the Grim Elbow Reaper forced closer Bobby Parnell to have Tommy John surgery, which ended his season after only one game. The Mets have since pulled their bullpen together with an unlikely mix of veterans like Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Rice, Carlos Torres and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Their offense hasn’t exactly been lighting up scoreboards so far in 2014, either. Their high-profile free agent acquisition, Curtis Granderson, had a career-worst 0-for-22 streak en route to a .125 batting average with only one home run. David Wright has run hot and cold so far, rookie Travis d’Arnaud is still finding his stroke, and Ruben Tejada has been, well, Ruben Tejada. On the positive side, Daniel Murphy is still the hitter he’s always been (batting average around .280 with a low on-base percentage), Lucas Duda leads the team in home runs (four) and OPS (.850 before today’s game), and Eric Young Jr. has produced a .345 OBP and 10 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot. Still, the Mets are near the bottom in most team offensive categories.

The Mets have been winning with good starting pitching, reliable relief work, and excellent defense. As a team, they have the best fielding percentage in the league at .988. Their speedy outfielders have made Citi Field’s cavernous outfield look small, and the sometimes questionable infielders, like Tejada and Murphy, have made the right plays at the right times.

If they can sustain these positives, and their inconsistent lineup starts producing according to their career trends (looking at you, Mr. Granderson), the Mets could really start winning some ballgames, especially with a less difficult schedule in the near future. Or the pitching could falter, the defense could regress to the mean, and they could play down to their competition. But if you can’t have hope for your team in April, when can you?

Paul J. Festa is a baseball writer for Follow him on Twitter at @pauljfesta and add him on Google.

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