Mets have their first litmus test of the year - the San Francisco Giants
The Giants enter play on Tuesday with the best team ERA in baseball
The Mets will face their first litmus test of the season against the Giants, now four games in three days - starting with a straight, single-admission doubleheader today at 3:10 PM - before heading out west to face the Diamondbacks again this weekend.
With the Giants, they’ll face a well-oiled machine with strong pitching and defense and a team that does the little things well. The Mets themselves have their own share of strong pitching - they have the best starters ERA in the game right now (1.07) and no team since the earned run stat was invented has ever posted an ERA as low over the first ten games of a season (courtesy of SportsRadar).
Of course, that isn’t sustainable, but it’s an indication of their ability to dominate for stretches of time even in the absence of Jacob deGrom. They also have a manager and staff that pride themselves on doing the little things well, as was on full display in the sixth inning during Sunday’s win against Arizona.
But these aren’t the Diamondbacks or Nationals they’re facing this week.
These are the Giants, who last year showed just how far the Mets needed to come to be on the top shelf in the National League by winning 107 games during the regular season. San Francisco took five of six against the Mets in 2021 including all three at Citi Field during their disastrous August, effectively ending their season in the process. The Mets scored only 17 runs in the six games against the Giants, averaging just 2.8 runs per game against while allowing 4.3 runs per game. The only game the Mets won against the Giants in 2021 was a ghost-runner win in San Francisco.
So while its a litmus test for the Mets, its also one for the Giants and a good matchup for both clubs early in the year.
And, its going to be all about the pitching this week.
The Giants and Mets enter play today with the best team ERAs in the game - San Francisco enters play with a 2.20 team ERA, the Mets 2.35. A key difference between the staffs overall are the strikeout rates - the Giants, while still striking out more than a batter per inning on average, are only striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings whereas the Mets are striking out 10.8. So conceivably, with a more contact-oriented offense the Mets should at least be able to put more balls in play and use their newfound speed to get on-base and manufacture runs (they already have nine stolen bases in their first ten games).
But while the Mets starters have been dominant overall, that contrasts with their performance in the bullpen (to be fair, that’s mostly attributed to slow starts from Seth Lugo and Joely Rodriguez), posting an ERA of 4.02 compared to that of the Giants of 2.14. The Giants are also getting a little more length from their starting pitchers than the Mets (5.4 IP per start for the Giants vs 5.0 IP per start for the Mets). That could conceivably overexpose the Mets bullpen if the starters can’t go deep into games, as has been the case early on in the year.
Still, there’s no reason to expect a lot of offense in this series, especially early in games and in the cool and windy conditions (which both teams should be used to considering where they play). These games will likely come down to the little things both Gabe Kapler and Buck Showalter love to emphasize and employ. And of course, the bullpen.
This is an opportunity for the Mets bullpen to step up and shine against one of the league’s best, specifically Lugo and Rodriguez who have gotten out of the gate slow for the Mets and have been chiefly responsible for some early season cough-ups. The glass-half full perspective on Rodriguez is he has generally done his job against left-handed hitters - they’re 1-for-7 with a walk against him so far this season. But the three batter rule usually forces him into a matchup which neutralizes him, that which is against right-handed hitters. The glass half-full perspective on Lugo is the vertical movement and velocity on his breaking ball aren’t missing from the equation - its still an elite pitch by the metrics so its a matter of finding the feel and release point of that pitch again and commanding it for strikes.
Truth be told, Showalter and the Mets need a litmus test. 7-3 is great, and doing it largely against the division is even better, but with expectations through the roof for Steve Cohen’s near-$300 million roster and multi-million dollar dugout staff, it’s time to see what it can do against the league’s elite clubs, even if they’re still missing some key components to the roster.
Pete Alonso has 109 home runs in his first 380 career games. Only Ryan Howard (117) has more over the same span to start a career in major league history:
Ryan Howard - 117
Pete Alonso - 109
Gary Sánchez - 105
Aaron Judge - 103
Ronald Acuña, Jr. - 101
Joey Gallo - 100
Ralph Kiner - 100
Mark McGwire - 99
Bob Horner - 98
Matt Olson - 97
(Data courtesy of Baseball Reference)