Over their first 52 games, the New York Mets gave us many reasons to believe that they've come a long way towards the goal of being a legitimate contender. Then they traveled west to Los Angeles. While apparently dealing with the pervasive smell of "rat urine" in the visitor facilities, they've also spent a couple of games learning that they still have some distance to go if they hope to compete with the best teams this fall.
I'm not going to allow myself a colossal overreaction to a couple of bad games out west. The Mets went into this series with Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Tylor Megill all on the shelf. Assuming all three are healthy when the playoffs roll around, the Mets will be in much better shape to take on the Dodgers. Certainly, they can at least hope for better starting pitching than they received these last two days, although it's hard to fault Taijuan Walker's effort in the series opener. But the Mets have faced some elite pitching over the last couple of days — the sort of elite pitching that the Mets will see plenty of in the playoffs — and the lineup has struggled mightily.
While the Mets are unlikely to see a better pitching staff than LA's in the playoffs, they certainly will see plenty of elite pitchers on teams like San Diego, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and the Braves in their own division. They're not always going to be able to string a bunch of hits together to score some runs against elite pitching. In their first two games against the Dodgers, the Mets totaled only 8 hits combined. The only run they've scored was on a Pete Alonso home run. Meanwhile, LA has scored 8 runs over the two games and had 3 home runs in Friday night's contest.
The Mets worked hard to build a deeper lineup this season, and that hard work has paid off for the most part. What's clear, however, is their lineup isn't as deep as the All-Star team Los Angeles sends out day after day. Work remains to be done if the Mets hope to be more competitive in the postseason.
This isn't some sort of doomsday rant on my part. Even if the Mets get beat up in these next couple of games, I don't foresee a repeat of last year's implosion. They have a much better team, and Buck Showalter is a much better manager. Tylor Megill is set to make a minor league rehab start on Sunday. He'll provide a huge boost if he can return at anything close to his early-season effectiveness. There are still questions about the Mets' bullpen, but picking up a reliever or two is always doable at the trade deadline. I personally doubt very much that the Mets will swing a big deal for a starting pitcher, but I honestly don't think they need one.
What I believe needs to be addressed is deepening the lineup a little:
- The Mets don't need huge offense from their catchers, but they need more than the offensive black hole that the position has been so far this season. The OPS+ for the three guys who have caught for them: James McCann 59, Tomás Nido 62, and Patrick Mazeika 44. The Mets really need a catcher who can at least approach league-average production. Nido has failed to hit enough to justify a backup catching job, and Mazeika is not a major league hitter. Francisco Alvarez isn't ready, and I'd hate to see the Mets rush him and potentially set him back as Seattle had done with Jarred Kelenic, but if McCann returns and fails to hit, I think there will be at least some pressure on the Mets to consider the move.
- Everyone on the Mets seems to like and respect Eduardo Escobar, but he was brought in to provide some power to the lineup. Instead, he seems to be one of the MLB ballplayers who has been adversely affected by the changes to the baseball and universal use of the humidor. Besides struggling along with a low OBP, Escobar has hit with little power this season. With 1/3 of the season completed, Escobar has only hit 3 HR. If he doesn't heat up this summer, I think the Mets will have to look for more offense from the position.
- I've always been a J.D. Davis fan since the Mets acquired him, but the failure of J.D. and Dominic Smith to hit this season has hurt. Smith earned a demotion to the minors with his ongoing struggles. Meanwhile, Davis has hit the ball better but hardly well enough to justify getting more frequent starts. What's most troubling with J.D. is that he hasn't been hitting lefties so far, which would be his most important role on this team. Davis's offense is slightly above league-average with a 250/.340/.359 slash line, but Davis' defensive liabilities demand that he produce much more than that offensively to justify a roster spot.
The Mets have done a good job of scoring runs without depending on the home run, but they need some of their guys to step up and provide more offensively — including hitting a few more balls over the fence — if they hope to maximize their chances as a playoff team this fall. Without overreacting, the first two games of the Dodgers series have exposed the Mets as a club that needs to deepen their lineup a bit more to optimize their chances. Maybe that upgrade comes from players like McCann, Davis, and Escobar upping their game offensively. If not, they'll need to find more production from outside via trade.
Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!
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