Mets Still Have Realistic Path To Win NL East
Checking ZiPS, after the Phillies went out and signed Bryce Harper, the Mets are now the fourth best team in the division, and they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason. Ultimately, this projection shows how the Mets chances of winning the division and making the postseason are that much more difficult.
It does not mean the Mets season is already over before it has began. No, the Mets still have a real shot and a clear path to a division title.
The first part of winning the division starts with the bullpen. Looking at last season, the top five bullpens by ERA all made the postseason. This includes the Brewers and Athletics who surprised many by utilizing their bullpen strength and questionable starting pitching to reach the postseason.
In 2017, the top six bullpens by ERA made the postseason. In 2016, five of the top six bullpens by ERA made the postseason. Overall, in an era with increased bullpen usage, we are beginning to see a correlation between strong bullpens and winning.
The Mets have the makings of a top bullpen. Among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched, Edwin Diaz had the fifth best ERA. Not too far behind him was Seth Lugo was the 13th best. In addition to those two, the Mets have Jeurys Familia, who has previously led the majors in saves. There is depth behind them with Justin Wilson, Robert Gsellman, and a series of power arms in the minors with Tyler Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Ryder Ryan, and Drew Smith.
If each reliever pitches the way they could, the Mets could very well have a top five bullpen, which we have seen is becoming an increasingly important factor in teams’ performance.
More impressive than the Mets bullpen is their starting rotation, at least four-fifths of it. Jacob deGrom is coming off a historically great season, and we can reasonably expect him to vie for a second consecutive Cy Young next season. As good as deGrom was, Zack Wheeler might’ve been better in the second half last year. In fact, Wheeler’s second half 1.68 ERA was just a hair better than deGrom’s.
As good as both pitchers are, Noah Syndergaard may just have the best stuff on the entire pitching staff. We have certainly seen him when he has put it all together, and we have seen how well he pitches in big games. If you add a healthy and improved Steven Matz, a pitcher who made 30 starts for the first time in his career last year, and the Mets have dominant starting pitching even with Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All Star break.
Even with the improved and strong bullpen, the Mets are going to need health from their starters. Behind them is a group of pitchers who have struggled at the Major League level. Now, it’s possible Chris Flexen is much better with a better physique and healthy knee, and it is possible Corey Oswalt is better for his struggles last year. It’s even possible David Peterson and Anthony Kay have a meteoric rise. Certainly, any of these things are possible, but if the Mets are counting on more than one of their young starters to step up, they are in trouble.
Health is also going to be a key factor among the position players. That is highlighted all the more with the injuries suffered by Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier as well as Travis d’Arnaud‘s and T.J. Rivera‘s difficulty returning from Tommy John surgery.
There are injury question marks beyond them with Wilson Ramos having his own injury history, one which rivals Juan Lagares‘. While Robinson Cano has been healthy throughout his career, he’s also 36 years old, and there are plenty of skeptics who will point out how Frazier went from a healthy player to an increasingly injury prone one once he put on a Mets uniform. Truth be told, injuries are part of the game, and the Mets are going to have to find ways to mitigate against them. Their best bet on that front is to have some young players step up.
The Mets need Amed Rosario to have that breakout season he seems primed to have. The team needs Pete Alonso to be what they believe he can be, and if he isn’t, they need Dominic Smith to be the player they once thought he would be. They will also need J.D. Davis to at least take over the Wilmer Flores role as a utility player who mashes left-handed pitching. It also couldn’t hurt to see the re-emergence of Gavin Cecchini, Luis Guillorme, or David Thompson.
Fact is there is talent on this Mets roster, but to overcome their odds, they are going to need a combination of health and players stepping up. If they get enough of a solid combination of the two, they have the top end talent in players like deGrom and Michael Conforto to capture this division and to even win a World Series.
Will it happen? Well, it is going to be fun to find out.