Are the New York Mets Legitimate Wild Card Contenders?

Hovering right around .500 through the first month of the season, can the New York Mets put it altogether this year to be a playoff team?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Francisco Lindor #12 of the New York Mets celebrates his 11th inning walk off double with Pete Alonso #20, and DJ Stewart #29 to win the game against the Chicago Cubs 7-6 during their game at Citi Field on May 02, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The New York Mets entered the 2024 season with understandably low expectations. After a dreadful 0-5 start to the season, however, those expectations seemed to have been too generous.

Since then, the Mets have been playing better baseball, even if there’s still room for improvement. They erased their 0-5 start by going 12-3 in their next 15 games and finished the month of April with a winning record. Now they find themselves right in the mix of teams vying for a Wild Card spot.

So, are the Mets’ Wild Card hopes legitimate? Can they continue to improve over the course of the season and find themselves in the postseason? Let’s take a look.

The Makings of a Good Lineup, in Theory

The Mets’ lineup was expected to be the strength of this team with the rotation and bullpen not seen as major strengths prior to the season.

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This has been the opposite through the month of April, as the rotation and bullpen have outperformed expectations, while the lineup has severely underperformed.

Through May 2, the position player with the highest OPS by far is DJ Stewart (.860), though he doesn’t qualify as he hasn’t had enough at-bats. Behind Stewart is Pete Alonso (.754) whose OPS has plummeted as he finds himself in a slump.

Some of the bats have improved of late, but Brandon Nimmo (.725), Francisco Lindor (.667) and Jeff McNeil (.652) have all struggled and have been unable to sustain long stretches of success at the plate.

The Mets also haven’t gotten much production at the plate from two regulars in Harrison Bader (.649) and Brett Baty (.628), who has seriously cooled down following a promising start to the season. The lower-tier bench bats like Joey Wendle (.474) and Omar Narváez (.381) have even underperformed their low expectations.

The fact that the Mets possess a winning record through April is almost unbelievable, given the stats on offense. There is major room for improvement, and improvement is all but guaranteed given the starts that some of the Mets’ proven hitters are off to.

The Mets are currently rolling with Omar Narváez and Tomas Nido at catcher with Francisco Alvarez out for several weeks. When the team gets Alvarez back from the Injured List, that’s a massive boost to the lineup.

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New York also recently received a shot in the arm with J.D. Martinez finally making his Mets debut. He’s expected to provide protection to Pete Alonso all season and should make a big impact with the bat given he needs to stay healthy.

Imagine a lineup with Alonso, Martinez, Lindor, McNeil, and Nimmo firing on all cylinders. Not to mention Starling Marte who looks like his 2022 version more than his 2023 version, and Tyrone Taylor who has been everything the Mets could ask for and more in a fourth outfielder.

It’s a deep lineup the Mets have that, on paper, should be really productive. What they need is their proven guys to heat up and their complementary pieces in guys like Bader and Baty to not drag the lineup down.

If the lineup is at its best in August and September, the Mets will have every chance in the world to grab a Wild Card spot.

Emergence of Luis Severino

Luis Severino was the worst pitcher in baseball in 2023. When the Mets brought him in during free agency this past offseason, the thinking was that they’d be able to fix him.

So far through his first six starts of the season, Severino appears to be back to his old form. His strikeouts per nine innings is identical to his rate in 2023, but every other stat is much more improved.

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Through his six starts, he’s thrown 35 innings and sports an exceptional 2.31 ERA, down from 6.65 last year. His 3.22 FIP, 1.057 WHIP, and 0.5 home runs per nine innings are also way better numbers than he had a year ago.

Severino’s last three starts have all been quality starts, including his most recent start which was a gem. The Mets blew the game, but Severino took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. That’s following his previous start in which he brought a perfect game into the fifth inning.

He hasn’t been quite the strikeout artist he used to be, but Severino continues to get batters out and he looks more comfortable and confident with each new outing. With Kodai Senga’s extended absence, Severino appears to have revived his career and has filled in as the Mets’ ace in the early portion of the season.

Enough Starter Depth, But is it Quality?

The Mets have starter depth for the first time in seemingly forever. Behind the starting rotation of Severino, Quintana, Manaea, Buttó and Houser, the Mets have three additional starters in Kodai Senga, David Peterson and Tylor Megill who are currently recovering from injury.

Additionally, the Mets just called up their top pitching prospect, Christian Scott, who will be making his MLB debut this weekend. Scott has pitched to a 3.20 ERA with a 0.711 WHIP in five Triple-A starts this year.

None of the Mets’ five regular starters are injured, so Scott’s promotion seems to be more due to his performance and his being deserving of being on a major league team. For this upcoming road trip, the Mets appear set to go to a six-man rotation, but it very well could be the last turn through for Adrian Houser.

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Houser has been the one weak spot of the Mets rotation so far, sporting an unsightly 8.17 ERA through his first six starts. Tylor Megill is currently rehabbing from a shoulder strain he sustained after his first start this season and could replace Houser in the rotation soon.

With Peterson also on a rehab assignment, and Senga started to throw live BPs, the Mets will soon have a surplus of options for their rotation, whether they stick with a six-man rotation or go back to a traditional five-man.

Barring injury, Severino, Quintana, Manaea and Senga should all have spots, and the Mets will have their pick between the newly promote Scott, Houser, Megill, Peterson and Jose Butto for the final spots in their rotation. Butto is the frontrunner to hold onto a rotation spot right now, as he has pitched to a 2.57 ERA through his first five starts.

Beyond those nine starters, the Mets have Joey Lucchesi and prospects Dom Hamel and Mike Vasil in Triple-A. Lucchesi has been great so far this year (2.25 ERA) and has major league experience. Hamel has also been stellar, while Vasil has struggled mightily. Lucchesi would likely be the first called upon of this bunch, but Hamel and Vasil provide even more depth.

The Mets’ rotation has enough depth that they shouldn’t have to worry this season. There is question about if they have enough frontline starting pitching to complete if they are able to make it into the playoffs, but the emergence of Severino and the return of Senga could go a long way in that regard.

Reed Garrett and the Improved Mets Bullpen

The biggest surprise from the Mets this season has been their bullpen. David Stearns has always been an architect of impressive bullpens, going back to his time in Milwaukee, but the job he’s done in year one with the Mets might be his most impressive feat yet.

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The Mets entered the offseason with Edwin Díaz, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith as the only sure pieces of the bullpen for the 2024 season. That gave Stearns the tall task of filling out the remainder of the bullpen and he did about as good a job as you can imagine.

Throughout the offseason, Stearns was consistently signing pitchers to minor league deals to improve the Mets depth. The MLB deal he gave out early in the offseason was reclamation project Jorge López. Then late in free agency, the Mets re-signed Adam Ottavino and also added Jake Diekman.

While all those additions have proved vital, it is one that was made by the prior regime last season that has proved to be the most pivotal.

No one out of the bullpen, or any bullpen in all of baseball, has exceed expectations more than Reed Garrett. Garrett actually started the year in Triple-A, but was quickly called up when the Mets needed a fresh arm and the 31-year-old has not looked back ever since.

Garrett has been one of the best relievers in baseball, whereas he had been a subpar journeyman in his career prior to this year. He’s totaled 16 2/3 innings in 10 appearances and is tied for the league lead in wins through May 2 with five. He has an 0.54 ERA, a .158 batting average against, and leads all relievers, not named Mason Miller, in strikeouts with 28.

Another surprise out of the bullpen has been López, who was abysmal in 2023 with a 5.95 ERA between three teams. He was an All-Star in 2022 with Baltimore but struggled with the Twins after a midseason trade. Through 15 games, he has a 1.80 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

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Edwin Díaz (2.13 ERA), Adam Ottavino (1.54), Brooks Raley (0.00), Drew Smith (2.70), Jake Diekman (3.38) and Sean Reid-Foley (0.00) have all been outstanding and have met or exceeded their expectations. They have been the core of arguably the best bullpen in the National League and have been the strength of this Mets team so far this season.

Are the Mets Contenders in the National League?

After taking a look at the Mets’ offense, their rotation and their bullpen, we’ll go back to the original question. Are the Mets legitimate Wild Card contenders in the National League?

On paper, the answer is yes. The Mets have all the pieces needed to contend for a postseason spot: star power in the lineup, a deep rotation headed by guys with ace potential, and an elite bullpen with reliability up and down the board.

The Mets have also had one of the toughest stretches of their schedule of any major league team, and somehow still have a winning record. They will play easier teams and they should win more games.

What the Mets need most is for their offense to wake up and for the rotation to go deeper into games and not give up so many walks. If Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil play up to their potential and the Mets start to get more out of their rotation once it gets healthy, there is no telling how good this team could actually be.

Anything can happen, of course, and we’re only a little over a month into the season. The Mets have shown signs of struggle but have also shown signs of promise. If the offense continues to come up short, it’ll hold the team back. But if the Mets can put it all together, expect them to be right there in the race for one of the Wild Card spots in the National League.

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