The New York Mets are the hottest team in baseball, and at least for the moment, the very best. On an unseasonably chilly Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, the Mets tied a franchise record by winning their 11th straight game, beating the Braves 6-3 as Bartolo Colon outpitched a wild Julio Teheran and outran a nearly-as-wild A.J. Pierzynski. In doing so, they ran their major league-best record to 13-3 and matched their best start since—you guessed it—1986, the year they last won a championship.
Via Baseball-Reference.com, the Mets have now won 11 straight games five different times, including in both 1969 and 1986, the years of their two championships. The other two times prior to their current run came in 1972 and 1990, years in which the team contended but did not make the playoffs. In the four seasons featuring those streaks, New York compiled a .595 winning percentage, roughly the equivalent of a 96-66 season—a record that if matched this year would surely send the Mets into the postseason for the first time since 2006.
The Mets didn't take long to pounce on Teheran, taking advantage of the 24-year-old righty's inability to locate his fastball in the first inning. Fourteen of his first 22 pitches were balls, as he walked Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer while retiring only Juan Lagares.
The free passes quickly came back to bite Teheran, as Daniel Murphy smoked an 89-mph fastball on the outside edge of the plate to rightfield for a bases-clearing double and a 3-0 first inning lead. Teheran burned through 32 pitches before finally extricating himself.
The Braves countered with a run in the second against the 41-year-old Colon. With one out, Pierzynski singled, and one out later, Andrelton Simmons doubled to right centerfield. Pierzynski, running with all the grace of a 38-year-old catcher, ran home from first base, and while the Lagares-to-Murphy relay and the ensuing tag by catcher Anthony Recker appeared to beat him, home plate umpire Jordan Baker's out call was overturned after a four-minute, 43 second review that ruled Recker blocked the plate in violation of Rule 7.13:
The interference call was somewhat surprising, in that Recker appeared to have possession of the ball by the time Pierzynski came home. That said, at least one angle of the replay (see around the 1:40 mark of the video above) suggested that Pierzynski might have been able to slip his left leg through Recker's legs to touch the plate before the tag was applied. One way or another, the run cut the lead to 3-1 and the throw sent Simmons to third, though Colon escaped without further damage by striking out Jace Peterson looking at an 89-mph two-seamer, the third time in the inning in which he froze a Braves hitter for strike three.
Thanks in part to a mental mistake by Murphy, the Braves tied the game in the fourth. Following a Nick Markakis leadoff double and a single by Freddie Freeman, Pierzynski grounded to second, but instead of taking the easy double play and conceding the run, Murphy threw home, which sent Markakis scampering back to third safely but also allowed the batter to reach first. Markakis suffered his own brain cramp when he broke for home on contact on a line drive to leftfield by Jonny Gomes instead of tagging up, forcing him again to retreat to safety. He finally scored on a Simmons single, and then Freeman scored on a Peterson sacrifice fly to center.
After another 32-pitch inning in the third, as well as a total of five walks, Teheran crossed the 100-pitch threshold while getting his first out in the fifth inning; he departed after Granderson, who had reached on an infield single, stole second while Lagares struck out, leaving Teheran's pitch count at 102. Relievers Ian Thomas and Sugar Ray Marimon continued Teheran's wild ways, with the former walking Duda and Cuddyer to load the bases and the latter forcing Granderson home with yet another walk to give the Mets a 4-3 lead. Duda's base on balls came on a wild pitch that produced a bit of comedy when Pierzynski steamrolled the home plate ump:
Pierzynski's misadventures on foot continued when he not only was picked off first base to end the fifth, but chased down and tagged by the 285-pound Colon:
Colon was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth. He departed having thrown 91 pitches, yielding seven hits but walking nobody while striking out five. He now has a 23/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings and has delivered quality starts in all four turns.
The Mets furthered their lead to 6-3 in the seventh. Lagares and Duda greeted Luis Avilan with back-to-back singles, with Lagares taking third. He then scored during a double play off the bat of Cuddyer, who himself took second on a balk and then scored when Simmons gloved but couldn't catch a flare off the bat of Murphy. The ball dropped into shallow leftfield, and Gomes's throw wasn't in time. That capped the scoring, while relievers Buddy Carlyle, Alex Torres and Jeurys Familia took the baton from Colon. Each delivered a scoreless inning, with Familia notching his eighth save in as many attempts.
Sixteen games is roughly 10 percent of a season, and while it's too early to draw firm conclusions about individual performances due to the small sample sizes, both theory and practice suggest that there's good news for the team as a whole. In the 2012 Baseball Prospectus book "Extra Innings," Derek Carty examined the non-strike seasons from 1962 through 2011 and found that a team's record at the 16-game mark reached a 0.5 correlation level with its final record, which is to say that teams' year-to-date performance became more predictive than simply assuming a .500 finish, as the largest possible sample of teams inevitably does.
That's music to the ears of a club coming off six straight losing seasons and eight straight outside the playoff picture, as is the fact that of the nine teams since the start of the 1995 season to jump out to 13-3 records, five of them—the 1997 Braves and Giants, 1998 Padres, 2003 Yankees and 2013 Braves—won their divisions, while a sixth, the 2012 Rangers, gained a wild-card berth. Those nine teams combined for a .576 winning percentage and an average record of 93-69, with the 2003 Royals (83-79) representing both the team with the lowest win total and the last to miss the postseason after such a hot start.
What's more, via USA Today's Ted Berg, the 26 previous teams to win 11 straight since the start of the 2000 season combined to average 92 wins. Twenty-four of them finished with winning records, with the 2004 Devil Rays (70-91) and 2013 Blue Jays (74-88) the exceptions. One more good omen for good measure: The Mets became the seventh team in modern history to complete a homestand of at least 10 games undefeated. The last team to do so was the 1991 Twins, who went on to win the World Series.
What may be most impressive about the Mets' hot start is that they've done it amid a slew of injuries. They lost starter Zack Wheeler to Tommy John surgery during spring training. On April 14, David Wright was felled by a hamstring strain and headed to the disabled list, and on April 19, Travis d'Arnaud and Jerry Blevins were also sent there after respectively suffering a broken right hand and a broken left forearm in the same game. Additionally, on April 11 New York lost closer Jenrry Mejia to an 80-game suspension for PED use. The team has banked wins while at considerably less than full strength, while the NL East’s heavyweights, the Nationals, have scuffled to a 7-8 start while missing Anthony Rendon, Denard Span and Jayson Werth for substantial stretches, though the latter two are now back in the lineup.
It may not all turn out for the best, but at least for the moment, the Mets are not only relevant again, they’re flying high. They’ll get a chance to set a franchise record on Friday in the Bronx against the Yankees, and if the Red Sox lose on Thursday night to give the Yankees a share of first place in the AL East, it will be the first time that the two teams have met for an interleague series while both lead their respective divisions.