The Mets are looking down at their division rivals, none of whom have a .500 mark. But which team is most likely to challenge them with a surge?
The Mets were picked by most to be a factor in the NL East, and many saw them as division winners, so it is not a surprise the Mets are where they are today in the NL East standings, atop the division by a full 3.5 games.
What is a surprise, though, and I dare say no one predicted this, is finding the remaining teams in the division struggling to even get their heads above water, with sub-.500 records with one-third of the season gone.
Nevertheless, baseball is a game of streaks, and teams can go either way, as in the case of the Baltimore Orioles, who recently dropped fourteen straight, to the Oakland A’s, who ripped off thirteen straight wins in April.
So, is there a team in the NL East who soon will be on the heels of the Mets? Let’s review the competition from the bottom up.
If you bet on the Nationals to win the NL East, the current Vegas odds are +1825, which means you have to lay out $100 to win $1825.
So right off the bat, we’re looking at a team for whom the season has already gotten away.
Max Scherzer cannot carry the rotation alone, and with Stephen Strasburg on the IL again, plus Patrick Corbin not coming close to the hype he brought with him when the Nationals stole him from the Yankees, the Nationals are not set up to challenge the Mets or anyone else, and will likely spend the rest of the season fighting with the Miami Marlins to stay out of last place.
Trea Turner is having an All-Star worthy season, leading the Nationals in batting average, home runs, and RBI, and Ryan Zimmerman is a contributor. Still, after that, there’s little to strike fear in any pitcher.
Mets Challenger Odds: 20-1
Last year’s surprise team, the Miami Marlins, have descended back to earth in 2021, a full eight games under .500.
With even greater odds to rebound this year, Vegas puts them at +2650 to win the NL East.
With Derek Jeter behind him, Don Mattingly’s team is still in a rebuilding process, and the success in last year’s shortened season is likely behind them for a while.
Trevor Rogers (6-3, 1.97 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise, but the rest of the rotation is a work in progress at best.
Jesus Aguilar is an offensive weapon with a team-leading 11 home runs and 42 batted in, but again, after Starling Marte (.309 .406 OBP), the rest of the lineup is easily manageable by most MLB pitchers.
Still, Mattingly is a force to be reckoned with, even if the Marlins exist as a spoiler only.
Mets Challenger Odds: 10-1
The Phillies are currently mired in third place in the NL East, four games behind the Mets, losers of six of their last ten while carrying a despicable 11-19 record on the road.
Bryce Harper (.275, 7 HR, 14 RBI) is quietly having a decent year, but in no way comes close to the player the Phillies thought they were getting when he hauled in that big contract, and J.T Realmuto is still working on an incomplete, though showing signs of recent life.
Do the Phillies have a team that can reel off eight or ten in a row, catapulting them to standing with the Mets?
Not likely, unless Nola teams up with Wheeler back to back and Zach Eflin makes a turn to pitch like he’s supposed to…
Mets Challenger Odds: 8-1
The Vegas odds will vary depending on the source used, have the Atlanta Braves at +200 to catch the Mets to win the National League East. Note: the Mets are +125.
Regardless of Vegas, as fans, we know we are looking at a Braves team that is built to contend, and as such, can be expected to be the Mets’ most serious challenger.
With four players (Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, and Dansby Swanson) already double-digits in home runs, the Braves are more than ready to withstand the loss of Marcel Ozuna, who is waiting for “sentencing” following a domestic violence incident.
Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos jumped out in front of everyone during the offseason, signing ageless Charlie Morton (5-2, 4.21 ERA), and he leads the Braves staff with 12 starts. Morton is complemented by Ian Anderson (4-3, 3.64), a homegrown product drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 1st round (3rd) of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft.
The loss of Huascar Ynoa, who is on the 60-day IL with little likelihood to return by season’s end, is a blow and something the Braves need to figure out in terms of a replacement.
No question, the Braves are a solid team that looks like they are about to engage in a run that will, at least, keep the Mets on their toes.
Mets Challenger Odds: 2-1
Over the years in head-to-head competition, the Mets have found the Braves to be particularly tough to beat (375-425) overall.
More recently, in 2019, the Mets lost eleven of nineteen against the Braves, and last year they managed only three wins in ten tries. In 2021, however, the Mets have a 3-1 record, with fifteen left to play before the season’s end.
Given that every game counts for two games in the standing, those 15 games will likely determine the winner of the National League East. The Mets’ next meeting with the Braves in a three-game set at Citi Field June 21-24.
When the Mets return home to face the San Diego Padres this weekend, it will mark a favorable phase in the schedule that has them on the road for only six games the rest of June while playing fourteen at Citi Field.
Despite the Braves being a formidable challenger, the edge swings wildly to the Mets if and when they fill their roster out with players returning from the IL, including Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Carlos Carrasco, J.D. Davis, and perhaps even Noah Syndergaard.
To be sure, though, at some point, things will tighten up in the NL East for the Mets, and the Braves will be there knocking, as they always do, on their door.
Here’s What Readers Are Saying…
Marc Golden Phillies now that Harper is back. 39 runs in 4 games are just a start.
Dave Sheldon WOW……How did this Division become so mediocre?
Steve VanReenen Both Atlanta and Washington will catch and surpass the Mets.
Mark Holmes The Mets health will be their greatest challenge. They could only go but for so long with career minor leaguers or guys we’ve never heard of playing significant roles while the regulars struggle to get back into the lineup.
Jeff Lane Ur right they r the only one
Ted Leather Braves. It’s a long season. A lot of our main guys are out and, while their replacements have performed, well, it’s a long season. A lot can happen over the next 4 months.
William Oakes Braves will challenge. Got to build up a big enough lead and beat teams like the Orioles in the meantime. Win all the series they’re expected to.
Michael Lee The Mets medical team
Mikkel Patrick Adams The Braves for sure are going to pick things up. The Braves are beating good teams and somehow losing to ones they should be beating. I think they will pick things up and give the Mets a challenge. With this said though we’ve also been slammed with injuries much more so than other teams and we seem to be picking things up too. I think with a healthy roster we might have a legit WS shot this year.
John Cross Have to think the Braves, just can’t count them out yet. Philly is at best a slightly over .500 team and I’m not that worried about the Nats or Marlins
Kenny Clark Atlanta. But hopefully by the time they make their run we are getting healthier and that’s bad news for the rest of the division.
Mary Ann Grennen I think the Atlanta Braves will be the big challenge this year. I think we will get a better picture after the Mets play those three doubleheaders in a week. LGM