The Mets’ greatest asset is Jacob deGrom. Their second is the rest of the NL East.
For they reside in a division of regret — we just don’t know whose yet: The Mets for not being even a touch healthier and running away with the NL East? Or the other NL East “contenders” for failing to capitalize on the Mets in their HMO phase.
These days the Mets are building a Ripken-esque streak for consecutive days of at least one player needing an MRI — Luis Rojas provided the results of three Wednesday. That has helped lead to a sense that the Mets are making up their rosters on a minute-by-minute basis and who will start on the back of a napkin.
Usually lineups are made public three or so hours before a game. The Mets haven’t done that in recent days. How could they? Since they didn’t even know who would be on the team as the clock ticked toward first pitch. On Wednesday, the Mets saw if they could set an MLB record for transactions, announcing eight player moves barely an hour prior to first pitch. One involved Tylor Megill, who made his major league debut as the Mets’ 12th starter this year, the third most in the majors. Another was promoting Corey Oswalt to the roster because, as even Rojas conceded, “We pretty much emptied the tank with our bullpen.”
The relief was exhausted (both physically and in total numbers) for a variety of reasons, including that the bullpen covered eight innings Tuesday after Marcus Stroman was removed with a hip ailment following the first. Stroman was one of the trio that were part of Rojas’ latest MRI roll call. For the Mets these days it represented a baseball miracle that Stroman did not go on the injured list (yet) and that Rojas thought the righty would make his scheduled start over the weekend.
Tomas Nido, though, did go on the IL with a right wrist contusion — the 23rd different Met already to be placed on the list. Michael Conforto, though, came off. That is the Mets — one step forward, one limp back.
“There are a lot of moving parts right now,” Rojas said.
That can be the 2021 Mets motto: A lot of moving parts right now. Yet, they were in first place. That owes to the genius of deGrom, much improved defense and a variety of timely cameos from an ever-growing chorus. But the Mets also began Wednesday with the largest division lead (four games) because the other projected contenders were having difficulties even reaching .500.
The Marlins, who made the (expanded) playoffs for the first time since 2003 last year, were 10 games under .500 through Tuesday and looking more and more like their most important moment in 2021 will be making a winning deadline trade of Starling Marte. The Braves, Nationals and Phillies have been jockeying to see who should be taken as the most serious threat to the Mets.
The Nationals have most looked that part recently. They rallied from deficits of 5-0 and 9-5 Wednesday to beat the Phillies 13-12, the Nats’ ninth win in 10 games. But Washington continues to be top heavy, loaded with stars, but a dubious supporting cast. The Phillies’ bullpen, like in 2020, again appears a daily sieve and their manager Joe Girardi is so stressed that he is making his clenched-jawed Yankees years seem like his serene period. The Braves have significant depth issues in the lineup, rotation and bullpen — by the way those are the three phases of the game. They had their own emergency starter, Kyle Wright, facing Megill on Wednesday and had not yet announced their starter for Thursday because, well, they simply had no obvious option yet.
This emphasizes the pressure on all the NL East hopefuls to find solutions both internal and external. For the Mets, the return of their No. 3 hitter, Conforto, is a self-healing answer. Conforto, Pete Alonso, Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil and Kevin Pillar were all in that late-arriving lineup Wednesday and all had come off the IL since May 31. Perhaps Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis can arrive before long. But, you know, one step forward, one limp back. With these Mets, you brace for the next MRI report. You eye that next moving part.
They are in first place because they have worked through the medical procedures and the relentless roster manipulation. But also because the rest of the division is not making them hurt in any other way.