Make it seven straight wins for the Mets, baseball's hottest team in the early going. But can the good times last in Queens?
Looking for the hottest team in baseball? Your search need not go any further than Queens: With a 5–4 win over the Marlins on Saturday night, the New York Mets have won seven straight and nine of their first 12, giving them the best record in the National League and the second-best record in the game.
What's fueling the Mets' hot start to the season? Pitching, pitching and more pitching has been the key. To date, New York has allowed just 35 runs in 12 contests, tied with the Pirates for the sixth-lowest in baseball so far. Going into Saturday's game, Mets pitchers had allowed opposing hitters to bat a mere .219 and had the majors' second-lowest ERA at 2.63. With 13 whiffs on Saturday, New York hurlers now have 102 on the season, the fourth-highest mark in baseball.
Eight of those strikeouts belonged to Saturday's starter, Jacob deGrom, who showed his NL Rookie of the Year-winning form with seven shutout frames against Miami. Of deGrom's 101 pitches, 69 went for strikes, as the righthander got 13 swings and misses and didn't walk a batter. He's now allowed just two earned runs in 19 1/3 innings, all of which came in the first inning of his first start of the year on April 8 against the Nationals. Since then, deGrom has thrown 18 1/3 scoreless frames, striking out 16 against just three walks. It's the longest scoreless run for a Mets starter since Mike Pelfrey threw 19 straight innings without giving up a run in April 2010; the franchise record belongs, unsurprisingly, to Dwight Gooden, who had a 27-inning scoreless streak in September of '85.
It's been more than deGrom, however. Matt Harvey, who will take the ball for Sunday's series finale, has been brilliant in his return from Tommy John surgery, striking out 17 in 12 innings and allowing just three runs. The ageless Bartolo Colon has made three starts, thrown 20 innings and given up only three runs with 18 strikeouts and one walk. Jonathon Niese doesn't have the peripherals on his side, with six strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings, but he does have a shiny 1.59 ERA. And while Dillon Gee has struggled with nine runs and three homers given up in 10 2/3 innings, but his rotation spot may not last long given the presence of top prospects Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard.
Will that group be enough to keep the good times rolling at Citi Field? Harvey and deGrom are safe bets to perform, barring injury, but the back of the rotation should give the Mets pause. At 42 years old, Colon seems to be living on borrowed time, even if his peripherals belong to a pitcher half his age. Niese is coming off back-to-back league-average seasons by ERA+ and has a weak strikeout rate. And Gee isn't even supposed to be here: His rotation spot came courtesy of Zack Wheeler's blown-out elbow.
Montero, Matz and Syndergaard are as impressive a prospect trio as any, but Syndergaard battled injuries and poor performance at Triple A last season, and Matz has just 10 1/3 innings above Double A, all coming this year. As for Montero, he started the season in New York as a reliever, but middling performance earned him a ticket back to the minors. The current plan is to bring stretch Montero out at Triple A and bring him back for a spot start on April 28. Manager Terry Collins has said that the Mets won't be going to a six-man rotation, which means Gee's time in the starting five could be brief.
No matter how the back of the rotation shakes out, however, the Mets also need more on offense to turn this hot start into sustained success. Curtis Granderson has drawn 11 walks atop the lineup, but has only five hits—none for extra bases—in 49 trips to the plate. Likewise, Daniel Murphy is stuck in a slump to start the year, batting only .149. Lucas Duda is showing signs of a possible breakout year with a .370 average and eight extra-base hits, while veteran Michael Cuddyer has chipped in with a .333/.388/.511 line so far. But this is still a lineup that managed only 3.9 runs per game last year and did little this off-season but get older. And there's no infusion of youth to be found in the minors, either.
In essence, the Mets will likely go as far as their rotation can carry them. The team's compromised finances make a notable midseason addition unlikely, and New York will have to hope that injury-prone players like Cuddyer and Travis d'Arnaud can avoid the injury bug. Already, the Mets have lost David Wright to a hamstring injury, testing their thin depth at the hot corner. With healthy versions of Wright and Cuddyer and the improved Duda, plus Murphy and Granderson turning around slow starts, the offense can likely do enough to stay afloat. But all the pressure will be on the pitchers.
Regardless, Mets fans can for now enjoy the team's quick ascent to the top of the NL East standings. New York has a 1 1/2-game lead on the Braves through the first two weeks, and if Harvey can deliver a sweep of the Marlins on Sunday, the Mets will have their first eight-game winning streak since June 2010. And all this April success can go a long way toward making Mets fans feel like October baseball is in their future.