An optimist might point out that the Mets now have the best record in baseball since they sent rookie slugger Pete Alonso out for an All-Star tater-mashing bonanza. A pessimist might counter that the club has mostly feasted on sub-par teams in doing so.
And a realist? He or she would focus on what’s truly notable about the New York club’s recent run: the fact that it puts the Mets back to within clear shouting distance of Wild Card position. These twenty-some-odd games didn’t really tell us much about the talent level of this team. They did change the math of the postseason picture.
Fangraphs’ projection-based postseason odds take a fairly favorable view of the Mets, valuing them as a .546 winning-percentage true-talent outfit. It is decidedly less enthused with the Cardinals, Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rockies … yet projects all of those clubs in the vicinity of .500. The view is notably dimmer on the Giants, but even in that case, we’re looking at a ~fifty game sample in which all kinds of good and bad fortune (run distribution, injuries, high-leverage happenstance, bad hops, missed calls, etc.) can and will intervene.
When reasonable go-forward expectations are so tightly clustered, the starting point in the standings matters quite a bit. That’s why the Mets and Phillies have near the same odds, by Fangraphs’ reckoning, with the former’s estimated true-talent advantage offset by the latter’s existing lead. The Mets have reeled in the pace-setters in the Wild Card race (less so the division), to the point that they’re one of the more plausible teams to land in the play-in game. (Per Fangraphs, the Citi Field denizens rank third among the five non-division-leaders that project to a 20%+ likelihood. 538 and especially B-Ref are less bullish on the Mets.)
Emerging from this jam-packed field will be a matter of exploiting small advantages, squeezing value from the dusty corners of the roster, making correct decisions and performing in the key moments. Do the Mets have an advantage with a loaded rotation? Or are they doomed by a leaky pen? Will their spunky young leaders continued to drive the bus, or struggle when they encounter late-season adjustments from newly attentive pitching staffs? Will GM Brodie Van Wagenen and manager Mickey Callaway pull the right levers and push the right buttons?
There are too many considerations to even begin listing them all. How do you think it’ll turn out? (Poll link for app users.)