The National League East is a mess. In every other division, run differential is a pretty fair predictor of W-L record. In the NL East, the run differentials by place in the standings currently look like this: 0, +39, -5, -1, -40. The 0 squad is the Braves, in first place by the thinnest of margins over the Nats, who run differential would predict would have a substantial lead. The Marlins are at -5, about the same as the -1 Mets, but neither team is as far ahead of the crummy Phillies as you’d expect.
Statistics, obviously, aren’t destiny: The Mets aren’t 41-41 but 37-45, just as the Nats aren’t 11 games over .500.
But it’s asking a lot to imagine destinies that fly in the face of the stats.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way to the 2014 Mets. They lost today because a) Bartolo Colon had one of his off-days when his location wasn’t great and his fastball command wasn’t sharp, making him very hittable; and b) because they went limp when looking at a runner on third and less than two out. Daniel Murphy, Juan Lagares, and Ruben Tejada all failed in that spot today; convert those runs, and perhaps the team’s ninth-inning rally results in extra innings instead of lipstick smeared on a pig. (Believe it or not, the Mets are in the middle of the baseball pack when it comes to converting such situations — it only seems like they’re 0 for the last 74,000.)
For all their problems, though, the Mets’ mess of a division makes it difficult to abandon hope of a ’73-style run from worst (or near enough) to first.
But we should. Because trying to thread that needle is a distraction from the real business at hand.
The Mets have solid starting pitching — a surplus of it, in fact. Their bullpen has gone from a horror show to a strength, with Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Josh Edgin and Vic Black all looking solid. (And Bobby Parnell presumably returning next year.) But the offense remains painfully thin: Left field, shortstop, first base and catcher are all question marks if you’re feeling kind and holes if you’re not.
Above all else, the Mets need more potent bats. Help is potentially coming with Kevin Plawecki and Brandon Nimmo and Dilson Herrera, but it’s coming next year at the earliest, and even if those players pan out it will take patience to develop them — witness Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores and Travis d’Arnaud.
To me, it’s clear that the Mets should deal some of their surplus of starters: Next spring, the Mets can expect to have Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Colon, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero as starting candidates along with Familia and Mejia. I think the last two have shown they should stay in the bullpen, but that’s still eight guys for five spots. You don’t want to deal away all your depth — there will be guys who need more time and injuries — but the Mets can still make a deal.
What kind of deal? That’s up for debate, and potential partners would have something to say about it too of course. But I’d listen if the Mets were asked about Colon, Niese, Montero or Daisuke Matsuzaka — and absent a charge into first place, I wouldn’t look at the standings before having that conversation.
The same goes for Daniel Murphy. I love Murph, invisible ninja fantasies and all. If the Mets signed him to a long-range deal that would be great. But if they think they can get more value by moving him, they should do that. (Sandy Alderson’s free-agent picks have been hit and miss, but his record as a summer trader has been pretty good.) And again, if someone has an offer for Murph, the Mets should consider it without wondering why the Nats keep sputtering or whether luck will naturally bring them up four or five games in the standings.
The starters are here. The relievers have emerged. But the bats are still missing. The Mets’ top priority should be finding them, not daydreaming about what might be if everything breaks right. Because it probably won’t. Fantasies are fun; building good realities is better.