New York Mets Winning is About a Lot More Than Grimace

After a dreadful run through May, the New York Mets have hit their stride in June and are suddenly the hottest team in baseball.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Carlos Mendoza #64 of the New York Mets congratulates Harrison Bader #44 of the New York Mets on a two run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at Citi Field on April 17, 2024 in New York City. The Mets won 9-1. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

The New York Mets are the hottest team in baseball and all anyone can talk about is some giant purple guy in a mascot costume.

Yes, the story is quite novel.

Who doesn’t love a fictional character that hails from McDonaldland?

A creature that stands nine-feet tall, who infamously stole mistakes from customers back in the early 1970s, before becoming friends with Ronald McDonald himself.

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Last week, Grimace crossed over from the fast food world into Major League Baseball, where he threw out the first pitch at a Mets game in Citi Field. The Mets had lost to the lowly Miami Marlins the prior night, having scored just two runs on four hits.

Then, thanks to the miraculous presence of Grimace, something happened.

The Mets started playing good baseball.

Since Grimace’s first pitch, the Mets have reeled off six-straight victories. They battled back to beat the Marlins by taking the final two games of that three-game set, then swept the Padres in convincing fashion over the weekend.

Last night, they opened up their series against the Texas Rangers by putting up 14 runs on 22 hits.

While the side-story has garnered national attention, what many have failed to realize is that these winning ways showed up long before the big purple guy in the costume who is out for Mr. Met’s job.

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No, the story of the Mets turnaround goes all the way back to my last op-ed on the site, on May 30th, after the night where Jorge Lopez launched his glove into the stands and accidently let it slip that the Mets were the “worst ****** team in baseball”.

Now Lopez misbehaved and then misspoke, but his breaking point was a necessary one for the players in that clubhouse and the decision-makers in the Mets front office to make some changes. And it is those changes (and an admittedly bad National League) that have taken the Mets from being the worst team in baseball in May, to being a team back in the hunt in the middle of June.

What Changed in the Clubhouse with Lopez’s Toss?

When Jorge Lopez was ejected from the Mets 10-3 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the loss completed a stretch that saw the Mets open May with a 7-19 record. This stretch of futility happened to be identical to one we saw out of the Mets last season, when they had a 7-19 record in the month of June that torpedoed their season.

Remember, the Mets won 101 games back in 2022, yet they have been struggling to regain any semblance of that form ever since. The 2023 season turned into a disaster that saw the Mets go from big buyers in free agency, to full-on sellers at the deadline in hopes of leveraging assets to jumpstart a rebuild.

When the Mets put together a 26-game run in 2024 that rivaled even their worst from a frustrating 2023 season, everyone around the club had to take a look in the mirror. Especially after Lopez gave fans a souvenir that led to his release from the club.

Before the New York media could question any of the Mets players about what happened with Lopez and their series loss to the Dodgers, Francisco Lindor locked the doors of the clubhouse and held a players-only meeting.

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J.D. Martinez, a six-time All-Star and former World Series champion, has since described that meeting as one of the best he has ever been a part of in his career.

During the meeting, the players addressed each other about accountability. The message was pretty simple. Be accountable for yourself. Lindor explained that if each individual player could look themself in the mirror and be proud of the work they did each day, they could live with the results.

Having reached a rock-bottom, where the Mets were already being looked at as the worst team in baseball, there really wasn’t any reason they should be putting pressure on themselves anymore. They wanted to just go about the right process and get back to having fun.

Over the following 16 games since that meeting, it is fair to say the Mets are having a lot more fun.

Francisco Lindor’s Leadership Has Been Felt

Lindor deserves a lot more credit than Grimace for what has been going on with the New York Mets.

The Mets shortstop started the 2024 season off with a terrible slump, which saw him return to Cleveland on May 20th carrying a batting average below the Mendoza line at .197. Two days prior that however, the Mets made a switch.

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They put Lindor in the leadoff spot, a place had not batted on a consistent basis since 2019 with the then-Indians, when he was just 25 years old. Now five years later, Lindor was back atop the lineup in hopes it would spark his season.

In the 28 games since, Lindor has hit .339/.403/.565, while raising his season-long OPS up 115 points from .630 to .745. All of this taking place in exactly one month from the switch on May 18th.

That change to leadoff set the wheels in motion for Lindor getting right enough to the be the catalyst that sparked the Mets after their devasting 7-19 stretch in May.

When the Mets took the field against the Diamondbacks on May 29th, after their player’s-only meeting, Lindor was ready to lead by example.

Lindor led off the game with a single, and quickly stole second base to get himself in scoring position. Unfortunately for Lindor, he was stranded by his teammates a few batters later. In his second at-bat in the bottom of the third inning, Lindor did it himself with a solo homer.

He went on to finish the day going 4-for-4, with his last hit tying a 2-1 game in the bottom of the seventh inning. J.D. Martinez homered in the bottom of the 8th inning and the Mets won 3-2.

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The next game, the offense erupted for 10 runs for just the second time all season and won again. They would proceed to lose the final two games to the D-Backs and split the four-game set, but a better process had been put in place from the players in the Mets clubhouse.

It all came to fruition in the following series, a road trip that took the Mets to the Nation’s capital of D.C., before heading abroad. The Mets swept the Nationals, winning the last game by a score of 9-1.

They then took center-stage against the Phillies in the London Series. After dropping Game 1, the Mets avoided getting swept in the two-game set with a dramatic ninth inning comeback, where they scored three runs off closer Jose Alvarado.

The momentum of the D.C. sweep, and Phillies comeback, was briefly overruled by Jesus Luzardo and jetlag in their first game back stateside. But the Mets quickly bounced back and have won six-straight games, where they have played their best baseball of the season top-to-bottom.

Yes, this is where Grimace briefly entered the story, but a lot more took place on the field than that fateful first pitch.

The Return of Mets Leaders and Emergence of a New One

Across the Mets recent winning streak, they have seen the return of a few of their leaders from injuries, and the emergence of some of their regulars who were always due to break out.

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Starting catcher Francisco Alvarez hit the Injured List back on April 20th, and the Mets struggles certainly seemed to correspond with his absence. He returned to the starting lineup after the London Series. Also, Edwin Diaz came off of the IL last Thursday, after being place on the Injured List at the end of May with shoulder discomfort.

Diaz took some rest and a minor league assignment to regain his confidence and it was on full display in the Mets 3-2 victory in his first game back. Trailing 2-1, Diaz was tasked with keeping the Mets close in the ninth and he was up to the task.

In the bottom half, J.D. Martinez hit what was surprisingly the first walk-off homer of his career.

Martinez carried over the magic from his walk-off into the Mets’ next series against the San Diego Padres, where he put on an absolute clinic. J.D. went 6-for-9, with five walks in his 14 plate appearances against the Padres.

In Game 1 of the series, Martinez drove in the Mets only two runs with a double. In Game 2, Martinez homered twice, and got on-base in all five of his plate appearances. In the final game, he went 2-for-3 with another RBI double. For his work, Martinez was named the NL Player of the Week.

Meanwhile, Diaz made the first game of the Padres series hold up, converting his first save in 39 days and doing so pitching on back-to-back days with a one-run lead. With the Mets closer back, the rest of the bullpen has been able to settle into roles without needing a closer by committee.

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Between the leadership of Lindor and Martinez in the Mets lineup, Alvarez behind the dish, and Diaz in the bullpen, the Mets seem to be on much steadier footing moving forward.

Finding the Right Combination in The Starting Lineup

Another change that has coincided with the Mets six-game winning streak has been a change to their batting order. First, it was getting Lindor batting leadoff, but the lineup was still not firing on all cylinders.

On June 12th, some genius podcast host aired his gripes that the Mets should change their starting lineup. Whether they heard him or not, the Mets obliged, and dropped Pete Alonso from the two-hole back down to cleanup and pushed Martinez up to bat third.

This led to the first of three double-digit outbreaks that has since followed across the six-game winning streak. The first of which saw Harrison Bader bat second (and homer), in place of Brandon Nimmo, who got a day off to clear his head.

Nimmo had been having a terrible time of things batting third, where he had 34 strikeouts across 89 plate appearances (38.2%), including eight in his previous three starts.

Since being put in the two-hole, Nimmo has gone 10-for-20, with five runs scored and six RBIs in five games played. Meanwhile, Alonso has driven in seven runs over the Mets last two games.

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On Sunday, we saw just how dangerous the Mets new top four can be, as Dylan Cease allowed four runs to four batters before recording an out.

Lindor led the game off with a home run, then Nimmo laced a single. Martinez drew a walk ahead of Alonso, who crushed a three-run homer, his 15th of the season.

If this group of four can remain consistent moving forward, the Mets lineup should be able to avoid stalling out in the same way we have seen during their worst stretches this season. Especially with ignitable hitters behind them, like Starling Marte, Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez.

Credit to the Mets Front Office

When the best players on the team perform, everything else can fall into place. This is very true with what has happened with the Mets, but their front office deserves some credit for the moves they have made to get this group right.

The first was to DFA Jorge Lopez, who had pitched to a 6.23 ERA in his final 15 appearances with the club prior to his release. They replaced Lopez with Danny Young, who allowed just one run in seven appearances before being sent down when Edwin Diaz returned off the IL last week.

On May 31st, the Mets made the somewhat surprising decision to option both third baseman Brett Baty and rookie standout Christian Scott. The writing had been on the wall for Baty’s demotion due to the play of Vientos, but Scott was pitching really well in the Mets rotation.

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Scott had pitched to a 3.90 ERA in his five starts, and had gone at least six innings in three of them. A top-25 prospect in baseball, Scott was one of the few things fans had enjoyed watching in May, but his presence forced the Mets into keeping a six-man rotation.

With the recent return of both Tylor Megill and David Peterson off the IL, the Mets opted to send Scott down, and bring up Dedniel Núñez in his place. Núñez had impressed in a few stints with the Mets already, and was due for an extended look.

The 28-year-old had thrown two scoreless inning as the 27th man of a doubleheader on May 28th. Including that appearance, and the six since he has officially been on the Mets 26-man roster, Núñez has allowed just one run and four hits with 16 strikeouts across his last 11 1/3 innings pitched.

Núñez gives Carlos Mendoza another reliever he can trust who can both pitch in high-leverage situations, while also giving him multiple innings of relief. Which is a role we have seen Reed Garrett thrive in for most of the 2024 season.

With Garrett, Núñez, and Sean Reid-Foley (1.69 ERA in 21.1 IP), the Mets have a new trio of set-up men that can bridge the gap to Edwin Diaz.

At the same time, the move for Baty allowed the Mets to add Jose Iglesias to the roster, giving them a true backup utility infielder. In the Mets series sweep vs. the Nationals, Iglesias started ahead of Jeff McNeil in all three games, as they faced nothing but lefties.

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Across his first 25 at-bats since joining the roster, Iglesias is hitting .400.

There is one more transaction the Mets made on the last day of May. Along with adding Iglesias and Núñez, the Mets made a trade with the Yankees for catcher Luis Torrens.

Torrens had an opt-out in his minor league contract, so the Yankees dealt him to the Mets for cash. To make room for him on the roster, the Mets cut bait with Omar Narvaez, who was on the second-year, of a two-year, $15 million deal.

Narvaez was one of the worst catchers in baseball during Alvarez’s absence. He was hitting just .154/.191/.185, with an fWAR of -0.8, the worst mark on the Mets by far.

Considering the fact that Tomas Nido had played pretty well, and Alvarez was already on a rehab assignment, the move to trade for Torrens was a bit odd. Most felt the Mets could have just waited on Alvarez, but the front office clearly identified what they felt was a good big leaguer in Torrens.

In his first nine games with the Mets, Torrens is hitting .333/.385/.750, and has homered three times, including a multi-home run game off of Patrick Corbin. He has also helped the Mets in what has been a real area of weakness all year, controlling the running game.

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Torrens has caught three of four base-stealers so far, already exceeding Narvaez’s production across 28 games. Torrens also made one of the best plays you will ever see from a catcher, ending the London Series with a remarkable 2-3 double-play.

In one week, Torrens stole Nido’s backup catcher role, as the Mets released the latter following Alvarez’s return off the IL. Nido had spent 12 years in the Mets organization.

Now with a tandem of Torrens and Alvarez, the Mets catching situation looks to be a real advantage moving forward.

Can the Mets Make the Playoffs?

This is the question the Mets have a little over six weeks to answer. Their recent hot streak has been great to watch, but will inevitably come to an end at some point (unless Grimace really is magic).

For a team that is three games under .500, the Mets still have their work cut out for them, but they have almost crawled out of the hole they dug for themselves in May, and are off to a 10-4 start to June, with 10 games left to play. They will open up July with a stretch of 18 games against sub .500 teams, giving them the runway to really assert themselves in the NL Wild Card race.

If the Mets fall back behind the pack again, there is still every chance they become the seller everyone in the national media has been projecting them to be. But Pete Alonso and the rest of the Mets stars can avoid that fate if they just keep on winning.

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In a NL Wild Card race that currently has eight teams separated by just two games, anything can happen this year. Including the New York Mets finding their way back into the playoffs, against all odds from where they were at the end of May.