This was the morning after the Mets rallied for seven ninth-inning runs to turn a six-run deficit against the Phillies into a do-you-believe-it victory.
On the phone, a rival NL general manager found part of the narrative that had formed around the comeback annoying.
“I saw them described as ‘a plucky team,’ ” the official said. “They’re not a plucky team. They literally have a $300 million payroll. You are not ‘plucky’ at $300 million. You just have a talented team playing well for Buck [Showalter]. The real story isn’t even this team, it is about the previous incompetence.”
The Mets have been talented underachievers the last few years. But this version is deeper and better. Showalter is far superior to the inept Mickey Callaway and the overmatched Luis Rojas. And the Mets’ splurge of offseason additions has improved the depth, versatility and skill of the roster.
This allowed the Mets to approach the five-week mark of the season as MLB’s first team to 20 wins and with by far the biggest division lead (six games). It helps that no other NL East team is even above .500. The opening month-plus of the season has given at least a hint that this will be a two-team race. The Nationals are terrible. The Phillies’ concerns about bullpen, defense and overall depth are being realized. Perhaps the Marlins could be a surprise if veterans Avisail Garcia, Miguel Rojas and Jorge Soler start hitting.
But until proven otherwise, the Braves’ base of talent and winning pedigree make them the team to beat, even with a 14-16 record (Atlanta was 14-16 through 30 games last year and won the NL East for a fourth straight time and its first World Series since 1995). If you like the Mets to unseat the Braves, part of the reason is that they are just deeper and so much better managed than when they collapsed in the second half last year. So, at the 30-game mark, what are they getting from the half-dozen key new additions:
Showalter: Often with a bad manager players on the bench begin to roll their eyes or whisper second-guesses about decision-making. It robs confidence and cohesion from the group. The presence of Showalter eliminates this negativity. The Mets do not believe their guy is being out-managed — quite the opposite.
Showalter also is good at keeping his key veterans apprised of important matters that are coming up and soliciting their opinions. Does it move him from what he would do anyway? Maybe not. But the main lieutenants feel heard, vested in the process and not caught off guard.
Remember when there was some worry about whether Robinson Cano’s removal would cause any extended rancor in the clubhouse? That lasted about as long as the Phillies’ ninth-inning lead last Thursday.
Chris Bassitt/Max Scherzer: I am putting this duo together because of this stat — Mets starters lead the majors in innings pitched. The club’s weakness is its bullpen, yet it has not been as fully exposed as possible because the starters — even with Jacob deGrom out at least two months — have carried a big load. Scherzer was sixth in the majors in innings and Bassitt 10th. The Mets (with Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill) were the only club that completed the weekend with four starters having cleared 30 innings and only two other teams even had three.
Scherzer is mainly pitching like Scherzer and what greater compliment can be given to Bassitt than he is matching the staff ace — Scherzer has 37 innings, Bassitt 36 ²/₃; Scherzer has a 2.92 ERA, Bassitt 2.45; they both have a .195 batting average against.
Mark Canha/Eduardo Escobar/Starling Marte: I decided to take the three big free-agent position players together because, to date, they have been more about deepening the everyday core than standouts. Holdovers Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo have been the most productive offensive players. Canha, Escobar and Marte have done enough to be useful, but not enough to convince me the Mets — even while prioritizing bullpen — won’t look in the trade market for at least a supplementary bat, especially if J.D. Davis and/or Dom Smith do not perk up.
When the major league batting average is .232, a team-wide effort of .255 is valuable and Canha’s .311 mark has been a significant contribution. But he has just two extra-base hits (one double, one homer) and he is in the midst of having his slugging percentage fall for a third straight year.
Escobar came with the reputation as a streaky player and has not disappointed (1.055 OPS in his first 13 games, .405 in last 15). He is walking more than ever. That is a nice perk, but the Mets need power from him and he has just one homer after totaling between 21-35 in the last four 162-game seasons.
Between 2020-21, Marte hit .301 with an .818 OPS and 57 steals with just seven caught stealing. This year he was .265, .709 and four steals and four caught stealing. Still, with Lindor, in particular, and — to a lesser degree — Travis Jankowski, Marte has brought a quick-twitch element that has been missing from Mets teams of recent years. There is a greater nerve and verve to this roster.
Also just better talent and a substantial upgrade at manager.