December 7, 2022

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10 reasons why Mets have yet to drop a set in 2022

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WASHINGTON — With a 4-1 win in Thursday’s finale at Nationals Park, the Mets managed to extend one of the sport’s most impressive early-season streaks. So far this season, the Mets have played 10 series. They have lost none of them, posting a 9-0-1 record in series overall.

The Mets are MLB’s only team featuring an undefeated series mark. Their overall 22-11 record rates third-best in the league, behind only the Yankees and Dodgers. And beyond that, the Mets have offered plenty of evidence that this sort of run might be sustainable.

Here are 10 takeaways from New York’s 10 unblemished series to open the season:

1. Taijuan Walker can be an important rotation piece
One of several starters to report to camp amidst uncertainty, Walker rebounded from March knee trouble and April shoulder woes to become a regular rotation member by May. Thursday’s seven-inning outing was by far his best so far this season, with zero runs allowed and 11 ground-ball outs. Although Walker spent some time between innings using a heating pack on his lower back, he characterized that as typical treatment.

What Walker stressed is that he’s feeling as physically sound as ever, giving the Mets comfort at the back of their rotation.

“It felt really good just to go out there and contribute and go deep into games,” Walker said. “Now I feel like after this outing, I should be in the clear to go deep every game.”

2. Mark Canha might be ready to break out
Manager Buck Showalter said he has never seen a player get more out of an off day than Canha, who spent his time on Wednesday performing conditioning work and trying out swing tweaks. There was reason for it; despite Canha’s .291 average entering Thursday’s play, he had contributed only two extra-base hits.

That changed when Canha belted a solo homer in the ninth inning as part of a three-hit afternoon — “a little bit of an acknowledgement,” he said, “that I’m swinging the bat the right way.” Canha credits an adjustment he made for that final at-bat, moving his hands closer to his body. If it results in continued power, surely Canha will maintain that position.

3. Pete Alonso has already broken out
Another series, another home run for Alonso, who hit a two-run homer in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss. Alonso now has homers in seven of the Mets’ 10 series this year, and the team is 6-1 in games when he goes deep. That isn’t a surprise for a player who clubbed 53 homers as a rookie in 2019, but it’s still an encouraging sign given the depressed home run rate around MLB.

4. The team plays fundamentally sound defense
One of Thursday’s most important plays occurred in the fourth inning, when the Mets retired both Juan Soto and Josh Bell on a fielder’s choice. The rundown became a social media sensation because of its wacky nature, including a slow-motion collision between Walker and Soto at third base. But don’t let that overshadow an important point: it happened because Walker, shortstop Francisco Lindor and right fielder Starling Marte were all in the right position to make it so.

“If we didn’t execute it, there could have been one out and a guy on second or third,” Lindor said. “Every run counts. Getting those outs is huge.”

It’s the type of fundamental baseball that every team preaches in Spring Training. The Mets are actually living it, allowing them to go from being a poor defensive team (-21 Defensive Runs Saved in 2020) to a pretty good one (+45 DRS since that time).

5. Is it time for J.D. Davis?
When the Mets designated Robinson Canó for assignment last week, the expectation was that Dominic Smith would be the most significant beneficiary of playing time. But Smith has since fallen into a 1-for-18 slump, resulting in additional at-bats for Davis at designated hitter. Although Davis went 0-for-3 on Thursday and is slashing just .217/.362/.326 overall, Mets officials feel he’s been the victim of poor luck given his elite hard-hit rates. Entering Thursday’s play, Davis ranked ninth in the Majors in expected slugging percentage.

The Mets anticipate a breakout and will keep playing Davis until it happens.

6. Showalter’s bullpen management has paid dividends
The unsung heroes of New York’s latest series win were Trevor Williams and Stephen Nogosek, who provided 6 2/3 shutout innings of relief on Wednesday. While that didn’t prevent the Mets from suffering a rare defeat, it did allow Showalter to keep everyone else in his bullpen well-rested. These are the types of efforts that don’t necessarily pop out of the box score but most certainly matter in August and September.

7. There’s no need for concern about Edwin Díaz
If Díaz hasn’t been the most dominant closer in baseball (Josh Hader deserves that nod for now), he’s at least entered the conversation thanks to an otherworldly strikeout rate of 15.4 per nine innings. Although Díaz allowed a homer to Juan Soto in a non-save situation Thursday, and has given up three solo homers in 14 appearances, he’s permitted just four other hits. An increased reliance on his slider has allowed Díaz to rediscover his dominant form.

8. Two other players have been quietly excellent
The Mets’ position-player WAR leaders through 33 games? Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil, who have received relatively little publicity for their efforts. Nimmo has reached base in 12 of his last 19 plate appearances and owns an active 23-game on-base streak. McNeil ranks 10th in the Majors with a .321 average. Both have been uber valuable on defense.

9. Jake’s on his way
Also without much fanfare, Jacob deGrom began throwing this week — a significant step in the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s recovery from a stress reaction in his right scapula. While skepticism will continue to follow deGrom until he actually takes the mound in a game, the potential boost he can provide is enormous. And it could happen as soon as next month.

10. Don’t underestimate the importance of series wins
It’s a common baseball cliché, to be sure, but the Mets understand how critical it is that they are 9-0-1 in series so far. Winning two-thirds of games is an easy recipe to making the playoffs, so it’s no surprise that the Mets have enjoyed one of the biggest increases in FanGraphs postseason odds of any team — from 67.8 percent on Opening Day to 89.6 percent entering Thursday’s play.

“As long as we keep winning series throughout the year,” Walker said, “we’ll be in a good spot.”

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