If we were playing a 60-game regular season again this year, the Mets would be heading to the playoffs for the first time since the Wild Card game in 2016. Jacob deGrom would be on his way to a third NL Cy Young award. Noah Syndergaard would be heading into free agency with no games pitched for a second straight season. Carlos Carrasco would have missed the entire season, also. Michael Conforto would be joining Syndergaard in free agency after missing almost half of the regular season, although he might have a chance to boost his cause with a strong showing in the playoffs. Marcus Stroman would also be hoping for a good effort in the playoffs. It would be the buttercream icing on top of his strong regular season and ensure that he secures one of the top free-agent contracts this coming offseason.
Of course, none of the paragraph above is meaningful because much can change in the next 104 games, and some of it certainly will. Indeed, perhaps the most challenging part of the season lies directly ahead. After they finish with the Cubs on Thursday, the Mets have upcoming 4-game sets with the Nationals, Phillies, and Braves — each series featuring a makeup doubleheader for postponed games. It's a very good thing that the best version of David Peterson showed up last night because they will need some semblance of that pitcher going forward. The Mets will not only need both Peterson and Joey Lucchesi; they'll need to figure out another option or two to cover some of those upcoming doubleheaders.
Many challenges lay ahead for the Mets beyond stacked June doubleheaders. As resilient as they certainly have been with so many key players injured, it's still going to matter if they can successfully get some of their wounded players back and — even more importantly — keep them healthy going forward. As good as the pitching has been up to now, a long season always features ebb and flow. The pitchers have picked up the bats for most of the first 58 games of 2021. If the Mets are as good as all of us hope they are in 2021, the offense needs to be able to pick up the pitching if they endure some struggles at some point. That will be a lot easier to do if the club's best hitters are on the active roster rather than the IL.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I have much to be grateful for in 2021. I'm obviously grateful that the Mets finally have an owner who has his priorities in order for the club and the resources to maximize their chances of competing as a well-run large-market club should.
I'm also grateful for the players the front office brought in for this season. We talked a lot about depth this past winter and into the spring. That depth was tested more than we could have imagined, but there was enough in place to keep the team afloat during a stretch of injuries that would have buried any other Mets club of the past two decades. The thing about depth is that it isn't just about having players of a reasonable skill level available to slot in. It's important that these players play the game the right way and contribute to a winning mentality.
Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, and José Peraza were all signed before the season to make sure the Mets had a deep bench that could be a strength of the 2021 Mets. Peraza didn't even start the season on the active roster, part of the next level of depth beyond the top 26 players. They've all played well, even though Villar is the only one of the three with an OPS+ over 100. They've given the Mets solid defense, timely hitting, and have carried themselves like winners. The Mets wouldn't be sitting 8 games over .500 without their contributions.
Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury, and Mason Williams have also made key contributions to keeping the team afloat. Only Drury was signed during the offseason. McKinney and Williams were emergency pickups in-season. All 3 have been instrumental in keeping the Mets above water.
James McCann and Francisco Lindor are not in the category of ReplaceMets with the names above. They were brought in to be starters and leaders on the team. They both struggled mightily early on. We've seen plenty of players get off to rough starts over the years, and we've watched some of those players get buried by their starts. But even during their dark times, these two new Mets have provided leadership. Both seem to be turning their seasons around, which is great. But the way they've kept their heads up when it wasn't going well bode well for this team as it continues to face challenges going forward.
I like this Mets team a lot. I mean, I'm a Mets fan, and I always pull for the guys wearing the uniform. But some years, the particular group wearing that uniform just kind of work their way a little deeper into your heart. This year feels like the start of something new and better for Mets fans, and the players assembled and tasked with getting a new era underway feel very much like solid choices.
For all that, however, I'm quite grateful that the season that marks the start of this new era is a real baseball season. If these Mets are for real, they'll have to keep proving it through an entire 162-game marathon. It's the way baseball is supposed to be played, and anything less than that isn't a fair test.
I have a lot to feel grateful for in my personal life. Like the way the season has unfolded so far, it's not perfect. In nine days, I'm scheduled to have operations on both my back and my neck. The problems I am having with this 62-year-old body have taken me away from this blog a bit more than I would like in the past month or so. Sorry about that. I'm going to try to write more regularly between now and next Thursday when I'm having both surgeries. Then I'll probably be on the shelf for a bit before I can get back to the blog.
When I started the year, I had a goal of returning to attending ballgames again. That's still my goal. It's just on hold for a bit. I'm sure I'll be there later this summer, and I'm looking forward to writing about it. A little adversity should never stand in the way of a great season.
Please be well and take care.
Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.