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Examining the Mets’ NL East competition for the second half

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The Mets have a 3.5 game lead entering the second half. Can they hold off their divisional opponents for the rest of the year?

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Before the season began, I previewed all of the Mets’ National League East rivals and talked about their 2021 outlooks. The conclusion of the article was basically that the Mets had probably the second-best roster in the division behind only the Braves. Meanwhile, the Phillies seemed to have a good offense that could be undone by their pitching, the Nationals figured to be too shallow of a team to survive injuries with disaster potential in their starting rotation, and the Marlins did not look like they could hit enough to support their strong pitching.

One half of the season gone, and so far the Phillies have had a decent offense but have been undone by their pitching, the Nationals have suffered a number of injuries exposing their depth while having a disaster of a starting rotation, and the Marlins have pitched extremely well but haven’t hit enough to support it. Suffice to say those three teams have turned out pretty much as expected, but the big surprise in the division has been the Braves, who have struggled to even get to .500 in the first half, which almost nobody saw coming.

That means the Mets, sitting at 47-40, have a 3.5 game lead in the division despite not exactly being world-beaters themselves for the first three months of the season. But since the rest of the NL East is comprised of three teams just hovering around .500 and the Marlins, Fangraphs currently gives the Mets a 75.1% chance to win the division, which is the highest percentage change they’ve had to win the division since they last won the division in 2015. However, things can change quickly. So how do things stack up going forward? Let’s have a look at which NL East rivals have the best chance unseat the Mets from the top spot in the second half of the season.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are currently the closest team to the Mets in the standings, and figure to pose the best threat to them going forward. Their offense, much like the Mets’ offense, has suffered through a lot of injuries this year. But now that they, also like the Mets, are mostly healthy (COVID-list players aside) they’ll likely start hitting much more than they have.

Pitching is what has been really holding the Phillies down, and it’s pretty ugly. Zack Wheeler has been sparkling and Zach Eflin has been solid enough, but Aaron Nola has struggled to a 4.53 ERA in the first half and has not looked himself. The other two starters in their rotation are Matt Moore and Vince Velasquez, both of whom have ERAs over 5.

The bullpen is not much better, and we’ve seen that first-hand. Ranger Suarez, Connor Brogdon, and Archie Bradley have pitched solidly enough for them, but none of them are particularly fantastic either, and the rest of this bullpen is a toss-up any time they take the mound. Héctor Neris has had some serious blowups, Josè Alvarado is walking nearly 20 percent of the hitters he’s facing, and the rest of them are just bad.

The Phillies have played better as of late against some tough competition, but their best route to overtaking the Mets for the division is still likely to work a trade for at least one starter and a few relievers to plug the holes. We’ve seen teams win in spite of their bullpens (2019 Nationals), so it’s not a guarantee to assume the Phillies can’t win with an unpredictable bullpen. But they have to do something about this rotation.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have had a disappointing first half, but many still would’ve pegged them as the most likely team in the NL East to make a run in the second half—until Ronald Acuña Jr. went down on that warning track in Miami. Now, the Braves, who have already had a weak offense, are without their best hitter for the rest of the season.

That’s not all, either. Travis d’Arnaud remains unlikely to return any time soon, as he just started swinging a bat last week. Marcell Ozuna was injured and is now under investigation by the league for a domestic violence arrest; he seems unlikely to play the rest of this season, as well he shouldn’t.

Things on the pitching side haven’t been much easier for them. Max Fried and Charlie Morton have failed to live up to expectations. Mike Soroka is done for the year, and neither Huascar Ynoa or Tucker Davidson are close to a return either. On top of all of that, Ian Anderson dealt with with shoulder soreness in his last start and is now on the IL; no update has been given for him since he went to get evaluated earlier this week.

With all of these injuries and underperformance, it seems very difficult for the Braves to threaten the Mets much in the second half, even though they’re only 4.0 games out right now. They just traded for Joc Pederson to paper over some of their offensive holes, but Pederson isn’t a big difference maker these days, and the Braves will certainly have to do more to make noise at this point.

Washington Nationals

The Nats were 26-35, and then Kyle Schwarber started hitting dingers at a Barry Bonds pace. They then went 14-3 over their next 17 games as Schwarber carried them, and then he unfortunately got hurt. They’ve gone 2-9 since he went down, and have fallen back to 5 games under .500 at 42-47.

Their starting pitching has been a mess. Stephen Strasburg has barely pitched at all this season, and Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin have both had nightmare campaigns. Without Schwarber, their offense is just a two-man show between Juan Soto and Trea Turner, and things just got even worse for them with both of their catchers, Alex Avila and Yan Gomes, both going down with injuries that will keep them out for several weeks.

The Nats could catch the Mets if Schwarber came back and somehow continued his torrid pace, but he has yet to make any progress coming back from his hamstring strain. Strasburg is on the mend and could help anchor the rotation, but he is at least a few weeks away at best, and he might be too little too late by then. The Nationals have been a well-below .500 team for 14 of the 16 weeks they’ve played this season, and since they don’t have much to trade from to get any better, it’s tough to see them as being anything more than that for the last 11 weeks of the season.

Miami Marlins

After last year’s shortened season where the Marlins somehow made the playoffs, this year has looked much more like your standard Miami Marlins season. They sit at 39-50, and have already started selling with their trade of Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson late last month. The Marlins are bad, and they’re not going anywhere. The only intrigue in their season going forward is to see who else they will sell, and if the Mets can take advantage of facing them 14 times in the second half, even though Jon Berti will probably steal 20 bases in those 14 games.

Final Verdict

With the Mets being mostly healthy for the time being, it’s pretty easy to peg them as the easy favorites in the division as things currently stand. If they trade for a starter and add to the offense as well, they have the potential to run away with things. Of course, playoff odds can change violently in a heartbeat—just look at the 2015 NL East playoff odds chart, for example—but the Mets right now look like, at worst, an above-average team in a division full of below-average and bad teams.

That said, these division rivals can still smell blood in the water, according to Jeff Passan. They don’t view themselves as out of it. The Phillies currently seem like the biggest threat going forward, but they have a lot of work to do to even make sure they can even maintain an above .500 clip. The Braves have even more holes to fill at this point. Meanwhile, the Mets have less to do than either team to put themselves over the top and already have the head start in the standings. Still though, with 38 divisional games still left on the Mets’ schedule and fewer than a handful of games separating the top 4 teams, anything is possible.