Unfortunately, but somewhat expectedly, the early part of the MLB season has been plagued by injuries.
Almost no team has been immune to the rash of injuries that’s spreading throughout the league. However, it’d be hard to find a team that’s been hit harder than the New York Mets.
The Mets have over a dozen players on the IL, including a majority of their opening day starting lineup, not to mention the replacements for those players and even a couple of replacements for the replacements. But amidst those injuries, the Mets remain atop the NL East standings and have thus far been able to tread water.
Let’s take a look at why the Mets have been able to skate by with a watered-down roster and why they are built to survive until they can start to get healthy.
They Came Prepared
With new ownership and new front office leadership, the Mets built one of the best benches they’ve had in years. They may not have been expecting to get hit as hard by injuries as they’ve had, but a veteran-laden bench has helped New York to survive. Experienced veterans such as Kevin Pillar, Albert Almora, Jonathan Villar, and Jose Peraza were all part of New York's bench early in the season, helping to reduce the panic when injuries starting hitting the Mets.
Of course, Pillar, Almora, and Luis Guillorme are now part of New York’s IL contingent. However, Pillar was invaluable before suffering multiple nasal fractures earlier this month. Villar and Peraza have also stepped up and provided steady play at third base and second base, respectively, despite playing far more than either expected to at the start of the season.
Another veteran, Brandon Drury, has been quick to come up with a couple of big hits since being called up from the minors. Youngster Johneshwy Fargas also provided a spark before he also succumbed to an injury.
Nevertheless, New York’s “bench mob” has kept the Mets from falling apart the way most teams would have with more than half of their opening day lineup on the IL.
The Mets' Improved Defense
Even before the Mets were inundated with a new injury every day, pitching had been the key to the team’s success early in the year. To the surprise of many, quality defense has gone hand-in-hand with excellent pitching. Before the season, the defense was one potential weakness for the Mets. But they’ve surprised the entire league, currently ranking fourth in the majors in defensive runs saved.
Oddly enough, the injuries may have helped the Mets defensively. Villar has been strong defensively at third base, providing an upgrade from J.D. Davis. Meanwhile, Peraza has looked steady at second base, perhaps more so than Jeff McNeil did during the first month of the season. In the outfield, the loss of Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo surely hurt the Mets offensively. But before getting hurt themselves, Pillar, Almora, and Fargas all provided an upgrade defensively.
The likes of Cameron Maybin, Billy McKinney, and youngster Khalil Lee are all strong defensive outfielders, helping give New York’s pitchers an edge while they try to carry the team through this period.
The Bullpen Has Saved the Day
As mentioned, pitching has fueled the Mets during this period of non-stop injuries. But even New York’s starting rotation has been immune from the injury bug. Both Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker spent time on the IL. Meanwhile, Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard are taking longer than expected to return from injury. At one point in May, the Mets had just two bonafide starters on the active roster.
Needless to say, the Mets have asked their bullpen to do a lot of heavy lifting, and the bullpen has delivered. New York’s bullpen has the third-best ERA in the National League. Edwin Diaz has been perfect in save situations this season. He’s also gotten a lot of help from a strong contingent of setup men. The likes of Miguel Castro, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, Aaron Loup, and Robert Gsellman all have an ERA under 3.00 over at least a dozen appearances this year. Even younger pitchers like Drew Smith and Sean Reid-Foley have added more depth to the New York bullpen.
With so many options, the success of New York’s bullpen should be sustainable for the rest of the campaign despite shouldering such a big burden, especially with deGrom and Walker back from the IL and the rotation in better shape moving forward.
The NL East is Cannibal Island
In fairness, the Mets don’t deserve all of the credit for sitting atop the NL East amid all of their injuries. The profound mediocrity from the rest of the division has played a role in that as well. All five teams have struggled to get above .500 and stay there for long with the Braves underperforming, the Marlins failing to capture last season’s magic, and the Phillies and Nationals both unable to find any consistency.
However, outside of Atlanta’s disappointing start, the NL East has unfolded as most would have predicted. All five teams are solid, creating incredible balance and making it difficult for one team to separate from the pack. At the moment, all five teams are within a handful of games of one another. As the teams continue to beat up on one another, it’ll be tough for the Braves or anyone else to build a sizable lead. That should allow the Mets to stay within striking distance until they get healthy, assuming they can’t find a way to keep grinding out wins and stay in first place.
The Mets Will Build Back Better
While the Mets have been devastated by injuries this year, they’ve been fortunate to avoid any significant season-ending injuries.
Whether it’s in June, July, or August, the likes of Conforto, McNeil, Nimmo, Davis and Pete Alonso should all return sooner or later to reinforce a sluggish offense. Even reserves like Pillar, Almora, and Guillorme will return to give the Mets a deeper bench. Eventually, Carrasco and perhaps Syndergaard will return to create a deeper and more dangerous rotation. The New York bullpen even has a chance to improve with Seth Lugo due back in June.
The caveat is that even before the injuries, the Mets were drastically underperforming offensively. Nimmo and Davis got off to hot starts while Alonso, Conforto, and McNeil were surely disappointed with their number at the time they hit the IL. But once healthy, it could be just a matter of time until those players start producing closer to their career numbers, potentially giving the Mets the potent offense many envisioned before the season.
Until then, it could be a struggle to stay afloat with over a dozen players on the IL. However, the Mets continue to lead the NL East and have found ways to survive an injury-plagued month, creating a path to remain competitive and start to thrive later in the season once they get healthy.
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