By no means do the Mets have a lock on the NL East. At the same time, though, their challengers continue to falter, so why not think ahead…
The Mets position in the NL East Standings doesn’t tell us everything, but it does tell us enough to know that 2021 is a freakish year for the competition.
For the Mets, a 3.5 game lead is nothing to write home about; it’s basically the same lead they’ve had in the division for two months, give or take a game or two.
The Washington Nationals looked like they were ready to catch fire, only to see the embers die quickly, relegating them to fourth place, where they are likely to finish the season.
Losers of five straight, the Nationals have reached the point where they are willing to part with future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer in a deal before Friday’s 4 pm trade deadline.
The Phillies and Braves continue to swap places for second place, but again both are 5-5 over their last ten.
That trend seems to be firmly in place as Joe Girardi continues to struggle without his Phillie’s bullpen, and the Braves try desperately to withstand injuries to key players like Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, and their rotation ace, Mike Soroka.
Mets: Not Too Early To Plan For October
So, while it’s premature with a little more than sixty games left in the regular season for the Mets to put things on cruise control, there can be an opportunity for Mets manager Luis Rojas and his coaching staff to begin planning for October – and the playoffs.
With the reminder that last year’s abbreviated 60-game season did not allow times for pitchers to “stretch out” their arms, the first place the Mets might look is to their starting pitchers and the numbers of innings they’ve thrown so far.
Assuming Jacob deGrom returns healthy and can put the five setbacks he’s endured this season, his amassed 95 total innings should be no problem.
Marcus Stroman, however, with 115 innings to date, can surface as a problem for the Mets if not monitored going forward.
Stroman can reach the 200 inning thresholds in innings pitched as he did in both 2016 and 2017 when he was with the Blue Jays, but when weighed against 124 innings in 2019 and 59 in 2020, a cause for concern should exist.
Similarly, Taijuan Walker, at 94 innings pitched this year, has not reached the same number of innings since 2017, many moons ago.
When you have a guy in your bullpen as good and reliable as Seth Lugo has been for the Mets, the temptation for Rojas to call on him is irresistible.
Still, with 23 appearances this year and after returning from an injury, Lugo and these Mets relievers are subject to overwork that can easily put a dent in their readiness to face the best hitters in the major leagues in October.
This table depicts Rojas’s usage of his bullpen to date:
While not an overwhelming number of innings for any of these Mets relievers, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner knows the actual pitch count while warming up, sitting down, only to warm up again before getting into a game.
Where Will The Help Come From?
Recognizing a potential problem while solving it is another, so it will be the challenge of the Mets to preserve what they have in starting and relief pitching.
Gone are the days when on September 1, active rosters expanded to as many as 40 players, easily allowing for the addition of several pitchers to cover innings.
Today, per MLB rules, rosters will expand to only 28 on September 1, and teams will be permitted to carry an extra player for doubleheaders. Not much help there from the 26 the Mets and all other teams carry now.
Nevertheless, the Mets need to think about it, even if they don’t concentrate on October and the Second Season.
Remember, making the playoffs as the Mets will surely do, adds as many 19 games to the 162 already played during the regular season, which is the same as asking a pitching staff to cover as many as 171 innings – without a hitch.
Mets: Just Something To Think About
With the Braves in town and another competitive game on tap for tonight, July still trumps October.
But at the same time, Rojas and the Mets are wise to delegate someone like Hefner as the point man to prepare his staff for October – beginning like now.
This is all new for the current Met’s leadership team, and no one was present when the team (seriously) last challenged for the World Series in 2015.
Which is all the more reason for the current brain trust to begin studying up now…