With a 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, the first half of the New York Mets‘ 2021 season is officially in the books. Thanks largely to their excellent pitching, along with inconsistent play from the rest of the division, the Mets head into the All-Star break atop the NL East with a 47-40 record, leading the second-place Philadelphia Phillies by three and a half games. It is the first time they have entered the All-Star break in first place since 2007.
The Mets’ streaky first half has been marked by solid starting pitching (particularly Jacob deGrom) and an improved bullpen (especially Edwin Diaz), but also an inconsistent offense and a bevy of injuries. The NL East was expected to be one of the most competitive divisions in MLB coming into the season. The Mets were seen as one of several potential contenders, although the Atlanta Braves, now sitting in third, were widely considered the favorite. All things considered, the Mets are fortunate to be in their current position. They have had several instances this season where a downward spiral appeared imminent, but time and time again, they’ve managed to stay afloat. Let’s take a deeper dive into the positives and negatives of the Mets’ season so far, and briefly look ahead to the second half.
The Mets’ greatest strength in 2021 has been their starting rotation, led by their ace Jacob deGrom, who’s currently on track for a third career Cy Young Award.
The 33-year-old righty is having a season for the ages, currently challenging the late, great Bob Gibson for the single-season ERA record in the modern era. Gibson finished the 1968 campaign with a 1.12 ERA, and Jake currently sits at 1.08 after staying below 1.00 for most of the season.
deGrom has a 7-2 record on the year, leading the National League in strikeouts (146), WHIP (o.54), and BAA (.126). He has taken home the NL Pitcher of the Month Award in both April and June of 2021. deGrom was so dominant to begin the season that seeing him surrender even one earned run came as a surprise. If the Mets make the postseason in 2021, they’ll certainly be heavily reliant on deGrom to carry them deep into October.
Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for the Mets in 2021 has been the emergence of Taijuan Walker as a reliable number two in the rotation. Walker had dealt with injuries across multiple seasons before joining the Mets this past offseason. He missed almost the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks due to Tommy John surgery. Although he recovered nicely in 2020 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts split between the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. In 2021, Walker has been excellent, going 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, a .196 BAA, and 89 strikeouts. He deservedly became an NL All-Star after Jacob deGrom announced he was skipping the game.
Another positive for the Mets has been the resurgence of closer Edwin Diaz, who struggled mightily in his first two seasons in New York. In 2019, Diaz had a 5.59 ERA with 7 blown saves, and in 2020, despite a much lower ERA of 1.75, he blew 4 saves in 10 opportunities. This season, he has looked more like his 2018 self, when he saved 57 games for the Mariners. Diaz has 19 saves in 21 chances in 2021 and has a 3.25 ERA. In 36 innings, he has 50 strikeouts while surrendering only 28 hits. For all his success in closing out games, though, Diaz has been rocky in non-save situations, with a 6.17 ERA in those spots through June 24.
Along with the rest of the rotation (Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and now Tylor Megill) and a mostly reliable bullpen, the Mets have surrendered the fewest runs in the majors (318). Also, their 3.43 team ERA ranks fourth in the major leagues.
There is no sugarcoating it–the Mets’ offense, for the most part, has been nothing short of ugly. Also, the injury bug has bitten the Mets hard in 2021.
As a team, they have a slash line of .231/.310/.373, with their average ranking 24th in MLB and their OPS of .683 ranking 25th. Their 327 runs scored on the season ranks 29th in the majors. Only the Pirates (319) have scored fewer.
The Mets’ two biggest offseason additions, shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher James McCann, each slumped their way through April into May. Their bats have picked up since then (to an extent), but the overall numbers still don’t impress. Lindor, who signed a 10-year, $341 million extension with New York after being acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Indians, had a particularly rough April, slashing .189/.299/.243. McCann, who signed a four-year, $40.6 million deal with the Mets after a successful two-year stint with the Chicago White Sox, didn’t fare much better. He slashed .214/.290/.268 in the opening month. At the break, Lindor is batting .227 with 11 home runs, 36 RBI, and a .702 OPS. McCann, meanwhile, has upped his average to .249, with 7 homers, 29 RBI, and a .691 OPS.
The Met with the strongest season at the plate thus far, to no one’s surprise, is Pete Alonso. The big first baseman has led the power front, slugging 17 homers, along with 49 RBI, a .478 slugging percentage, and a .806 OPS. Although, his .250 average leaves ample room for improvement. Mets fans are hoping his impressive Home Run Derby win on Monday night generates some offensive momentum heading into the 2nd half.
Two starters who had been set to take prominent positions in the rotation, Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) and offseason acquisition Carlos Carrasco (torn hamstring) have yet to make an appearance this season. Fifth starter Joey Lucchesi eventually lost his season to Tommy John surgery. Fireballer Dellin Betances is out for the season, and long reliever Robert Gsellman is out until at least late August. On the offensive front, outfielder Brandon Nimmo (finger), along with outfielder Michael Conforto and second baseman Jeff McNeil (both strained hamstrings) have all spent significant stretches on the IL in 2021. But all have returned and are hopefully primed to contribute more in the second half.
Many of these injuries have overlapped and threatened to derail the Mets’ season. However, they have fought through them and, mostly due to clutch pitching, have found ways to keep winning. In one instance, the Mets’ injury woes indirectly led to arguably the coolest moment of their season so far. After Brandon Nimmo’s placement on the IL in early May, utility man Patrick Mazeika was called up from the minors to replace him on the roster. Mazeika came up clutch twice in a one-week span, notching two nearly identical pinch-hit, walk-off fielder’s choices, both nubbers up the first-base line. In the process, he became the first player within the last century to record multiple walk-off RBIs before his first career hit. Surely one of the more uniquely positive starts to a major league career.
2021 Mets 2nd Half – A Short Look Ahead
Starting on Friday, the Mets will open the second half with a six-game NL Central road trip against the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. Then they will return home to host the Blue Jays for three games before the division-rival Braves come into town for an important five-game set. August will be a crucial month for the Mets as roughly half their games are against various NL East rivals and the other half are against the top two NL West clubs, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets hope to get Carlos Carrasco and David Peterson back from the IL at some point in the second half, and perhaps Noah Syndergaard, despite a setback in his recovery in May. The good news is, the Mets are in first place regardless of their sluggish offense and injury woes. Any improvement in one or both of those areas could help them coast to an NL East title and potentially a deep run into October.
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Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz, Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Taijuan Walker, Tommy John, Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, Tylor Megill, Francisco Lindor, James McCann, Pete Alonso, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Dellin Betances, Robert Gsellman, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Patrick Mazeika,