Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
The Mets spent $341 million on a star who hasn’t hit, they don't provide run support for their star pitcher, they traded away their best prospect—and they might make the playoffs anyway. At 33–25, they lead the National League East. Better yet, they might just be for real.
Start at the top of the starter ERA leaderboard, where New York resides, led by ace Jacob deGrom. That figure is 2.77 overall and 0.56 for the presumptive NL All-Star Game starter. (Back when his ERA was a bloated 0.71, two weeks ago, FanGraphs gave him 31-to-1 odds to break Bob Gibson’s live-ball record of 1.12.) Following him are Marcus Stroman (2.33) and Taijuan Walker (2.07), who have both been excellent. Sophomore David Peterson, who had allowed 16 runs in his previous 20 innings, shut out the Cubs through six on Monday night.
“Huge,” said manager Luis Rojas, beaming, after the game, which the Mets won 5–2.
And those numbers seem sustainable. As MLB leaks information about its foreign-substances enforcement plan, and pitchers stop cheating before getting caught, many staffs across the league have seen their four-seam fastball spin rates fall. (Pitchers can improve the spin rate on breaking stuff by changing their grip, but because four-seamers are so efficient—thrown with pure backspin—experts believe their spin rate is largely innate. The only way to achieve huge jumps in spin is to apply sticky stuff to the ball illegally; as pitchers ditch their sticky stuff, their four-seamers spin less fast and become easier to hit.) Against this backdrop, the Mets’ starters have actually seen their four-seam spin rate rise, to 2,318 from 2,288. It’s possible that New York pitchers have just not stopped using sticky stuff, but it’s more likely that they were using less to begin with, which bodes well for the future.
The hitters have struggled, but there is room for optimism there, too. Stud shortstop Francisco Lindor, who signed that $341 million, 10-year extension before the season, cannot hit .220 for the rest of the year. Indeed, since June 1 he has a .310 average and a .954 OPS. Before the Cubs game, Rojas said he thought Lindor seemed more relaxed as his slump eased. Lindor was in good spirits Monday, climbing atop the mound during batting practice and launching mid-70-mph fastballs as his teammates cackled.
Even though the Mets are clearly not on the level of the Padres or the Dodgers, and they might not make the playoffs and could even finish below .500, this stretch is important, because it gives Lindor time to start playing like himself before he becomes the face of the team's failure.
(Across the country, heralded center field prospect Jarred Kelenic, whom New York traded to the Mariners for closer Edwin Díaz and second baseman Robinson Canó, has been demoted to Triple A after hitting .096 in his 23-game major league debut.)
Meanwhile, 12 Mets—who combine to earn $16 million this year, second most in the majors—currently populate the injured list. (deGrom briefly terrified Mets fans by leaving his last start after only six innings and 80 pitches, then reporting afterward that he had right flexor tendinitis but was “not too concerned about it.” The team says he will make his next start, on Wednesday.) Once the cavalry returns, the team should become even more dangerous.
These are the Mets, so they have contended with turmoil all year. Before the season began, the team fired new GM Jared Porter after ESPN revealed he had sent explicit and harassing text messages to a female reporter. Then The Athletic reported that former manager Mickey Callaway, too, had harassed female reporters, earning himself the nickname Dick Pic Mick. (The Angels, his new employer, have since fired him. Callaway has apologized.)
Much less seriously, Stroman and injured starter Noah Syndergaard traded barbs on Twitter with Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer during spring training. First baseman Pete Alonso recently suggested that MLB was adjusting the composition of the baseball to suppress free-agent salaries—a dead ball before a year when hitters would stand to get paid, a juiced one before a year when pitchers would.
And yet FanGraphs gives this team an 83.9% chance to play in October. The Mets have always been seen as this bumbling, inept, constantly failing franchise, and they are, but somehow they win sometimes anyway.
More MLB Coverage:
• He Made Sticky Stuff for MLB Pitchers for 15 Years. Now He's Speaking Out
• Sticky Stuff Cleanup: What Enforcement Means for MLB
• MLB's Pitch Doctoring Scandal Goes Beyond Individual Offenders
• MLB Power Rankings: Taking Stock as Teams Clear the 60-Game Mark