Envisioning the best start through 11 games in Mets history likely would have included the idea of dominant starting pitching.
But the Mets are 10-1 largely because of factors beyond Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, who as a unit have performed respectably, but have room for improvement.
Instead, the mystical and surprising are bigger themes in the team’s play over the season’s first two weeks. A look at the anatomy of a special start to 2018 for the Mets:
As one industry insider put it Thursday, regarding first-year manager Mickey Callaway: “This guy can walk on water right now.” Even when Callaway guesses wrong — as he did Tuesday when Jacob Rhame was allowed to face Justin Bour with first base open in the seventh inning (Bour then homered for the second time in the game to put the Marlins ahead) — the Mets come to his rescue.
Callaway has received results from Amed Rosario batting ninth in the lineup, behind the pitcher, and has moved Asdrubal Cabrera seamlessly throughout the batting order. But it’s been Callaway’s decisions on pulling starting pitchers and finding the right matchups for his relievers that have perhaps carried him. Callaway has even gotten at-bats for Juan Lagares, while finding the right spots for Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce off the bench.
Anthony Swarzak, the team’s big offseason relief acquisition, has been a non-factor as he sits on the disabled list with a strained oblique, and yet the Mets bullpen has dominated, posting a 1.50 ERA.
The biggest moves have been Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo transitioning into relief roles. Both have shown a capacity to handle multiple-inning assignments, easing the burden on the likes of AJ Ramos, who has pitched less than one inning in three of his five appearances. Hansel Robles has returned from Triple-A Las Vegas and performed at a respectable level and Jeurys Familia appears to have regained his form from 2015 and ’16, when he was among baseball’s best closers.
Adrian Gonzalez has posted an .851 OPS in 10 games, which is on track with his career numbers. Most impressive is Gonzalez’s .406 on-base percentage and knack for delivering a meaningful hit — see the grand slam he blasted in Washington on Sunday and two-run single against the Marlins in the eighth inning Wednesday that put the Mets ahead. Gonzalez has given every indication he is sound physically after back problems sabotaged his play in the previous two seasons. Gonzalez, who was signed by the Mets for the major league minimum — the Braves are paying him $21.8 million in the final year of his contract — has been a steal to this point.
Todd Frazier’s addition to play third base has solidified a position that had been in flux for a few years, with David Wright battling various injuries and stopgaps such as Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores and Cabrera struggling with their glove-work. Rosario is a top-tier shortstop defensively and placed alongside the dependable Frazier, the Mets are strong on the infield’s left side. Cabrera appears comfortable playing second base and Gonzalez is an upgrade defensively over Lucas Duda. What the Mets’ starting outfielders lack in speed they make up for in anticipation. And Lagares is still a top defensive player. A team that was an eyesore defensively last season has become more than respectable.
In recent seasons, the Mets were prolific hitting home runs, and tied much of their offensive fortunes to going deep. The Mets have diversified their portfolio this season — they were tied for 10th in the NL in homers entering Thursday — using aggressive base running while showing a knack for resiliency after an opponent scores. In two of the three victories in Miami this week, the Mets did not hit a home run, but scored four runs in each game. The Mets will take that.