by Paul West
After a slow start to the season, which induced considerable worry among many fans, the New York Mets have climbed their way to the top of the NL East. Despite the loss of oft-injured catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a shoulder strain, David Wright‘s battle with spinal stenosis, and Matt Harvey‘s struggle to regain his previously elite form, the Mets are getting contributions from up and down their stacked lineup, and have the third best record in Major League Baseball. They pulled ahead of the Washington Nationals on Sunday, winning the rubber match of a series in San Diego as the Nationals were getting swept by the Cubs in Chicago. And the best news for Mets fans? They aren’t even totally clicking yet. The starting rotation still struggles to get past the sixth or seventh inning, which seems to foreshadow a need to buttress the bullpen so the middle relief isn’t maxed out or gassed as of the stretch run. D’Arnaud can’t seem to stay healthy, and it isn’t one recurrent issue but a varied litany of injuries. Wilmer Flores, relegated to supersub duty at all four infield positions, is struggling at the plate–and Kevin Plawecki is struggling in d’Arnaud’s stead. Rene Rivera, while he’s shown the power at the plate he was already known to have, doesn’t look like a sure-fire everyday option. But the Mets keep plugging along regardless.
Their rise to the top of the division has been fueled by one of the usual suspects: Yoenis Cespedes, who with an RBI single in tonight’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers padded his National League lead in RBIs. Flores showed signs of rising from his slumber with a sharp line drive to center field, and Jeurys Familia looked scintillating as he saved his third game a row. Curtis Granderson launched a home run to right field on the first pitch of the game, and Steven Matz notched his fifth win of the season, good for second in the NL. Michael Conforto continues to prove why he’s well deserving of the third spot in the lineup. And as with Rivera’s icebreaking home run in last Wednesday’s day game, the Mets have gotten timely contributions from unexpected sources for the past couple of weeks.
There are still questions to be answered. The bullpen still looks on pace to be overused and exhausted by the end of the season, which would seem to necessitate the addition of a solid middle reliever–if for no other reason than to let Addison Reed or Jim Henderson give Familia an occasional night off. But the fact that the Mets are 20-11, without having reached top gear yet, bodes well for their playoff aspirations. The apple continues to rise.