The New York Mets are off to a promising start in 2014. They’re 15-11 after the season’s first month, sitting two games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. Is the Mets’ early-season success a sign of things to come, or is it small sample sized illusion? There are two ways to look at the Mets’ season so far.
The first way is the more optimistic view. The Mets are winning without the benefit of their entire arsenal. The offense has gotten off to an anemic start. They’re near the bottom of the major leagues in several categories, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and they’ve only hit 16 home runs as a team. Their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .282 as a team, which is slightly below league average. That’s often an indication that they’ve been hitting into bad luck.
Individually, several players who are usually reliable have gotten off to disappointing starts. Curtis Granderson is hitting 122 points below his career batting average with just one home run. He’s 33, so he’s not exactly over the hill. His hitting will improve, even if his production isn’t what it was in the heart of his prime years. David Wright has been inconsistent and has a .631 OPS with only one home run of his own. Looking at his track record, he’s bound to break out as well. The Mets’ hottest hitter through the team’s first two weeks was Juan Lagares, but he missed significant time with a hamstring injury. He was just activated off the disabled list.
Also, they’ve been hampered by cold, windy conditions at Citi Field, which is already a tough place to hit. The Mets’ home OPS is nearly 100 points lower than on the road, although they have hit 11 of their 16 home runs in Queens. In short, they’ve been winning without hitting. Their formula has been a combination of good starting pitching, improved bullpen work and solid defense, particularly in the outfield. How long can they keep this up?
The pessimist would look at their early success this way: they can’t keep it going. Sure, it stands to reason that they will hit more than they are now, but can the pitching staff keep doing what it’s doing? The starting pitching looks to be for real, but what about the relievers?
After a calamitous opening series against the Washington Nationals, the bullpen has been stitched back together. However, because of the loss of Bobby Parnell to a torn elbow ligament, manager Terry Collins has had to rely on veterans, who some considered over-the-hill, to handle the late innings. After Jose Valverde had three-consecutive bad games, Collins inserted Kyle Farnsworth as closer. Farnsworth came out throwing harder than he did in Spring Training, and has been pretty reliable in the ninth inning. But Collins seems reluctant to use him on back-to-back days too often, and has used Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carlos Torres in save situations on occasion.
Matsuzaka has been a starter his whole career, but he’s embraced his role in the bullpen in 2014 so far. In nine appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00. Torres is this year’s overworked pitcher. Collins has brought him in 14 games so far, a pace that would add up to 87 games by year’s end. He’s been outstanding, allowing only two earned runs while striking out 17 batters. But when will the workload take its toll on him?
Taking everything into account, leading indicators are more positive than negative for the Mets. If the bullpen continues to survive, they could carry their winning ways from April into the summer.