Breaking down how Mets have stayed a first-place team

The Mets enter the second half of the baseball season with a 3 ½-game lead in the NL East, but is feels like it actually should be bigger.

The Mets will wake up Friday morning in first place for the 69th straight day. It has been a long, strange trip, one that has included many nights when they featured a Quadruple-A batting order (and, lately, a piecemeal starting rotation). Cameron Maybin, who is 1-for-28 this year for the Mets, hit third a couple of times.

The 6-5, 12-inning win at Miami on May 21 (Day 13 in first place) featured key 12th-inning RBI hits by — Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? — Khalil Lee and Johneshwy Fargas.

There have been some mornings when the top of the NL East standings feel like a typo and, yet, here the Mets are, starting the second half at 47-40, and that’s good for a 3 ½-game lead, and here’s what’s remarkable:

It feels impossible that lead isn’t smaller.

And it also feels like the lead should be bigger.

How can that be? Well, just take a walk through the 69 days the Mets have spent in first place. The whole journey tells you a story of how they got here …

Luis Rojas
Bill Kostroun

Day 1, May 9: Mets 4, Diamondbacks 2. Lead: 1

The Mets entered the day tied with the Phillies, but they had Jacob deGrom on the mound and felt bulletproof … until the ace begged out of the game after five innings and 68 pitches, after allowing a run and a hit and striking out six. This would become a familiar emotion for Mets fans: thrilling to deGrom as he mowed down hitters, then anxiously turning their attention to the bullpen at inning’s end. This time it was right-side tightness and it landed him on the IL. He also battled shoulder, elbow and back issues. The Mets took over first place by themselves yet few were ready to celebrate.

Day 10, May 18: Mets 4, Braves 3. Lead: 1.0

Tommy Hunter (soon bound for the 60-day IL) started. Robert Gsellman (soon bound for the 60-day IL) relieved him. Jonathan Villar, thought to be a spare piece in April, homered for an early lead. Tomas Nido, making a play to unseat James McCann as No. 1 catcher, hit the winning homer in the ninth. The Mets kept a narrow lead over the Phillies.

Day 20, May 28: Mets-Braves PPD. Lead: 2.5

An accounting such as this would not be at all possible without a little rain, of course. In the old days we could give an alliterative spin to the Mets’ dueling narratives of 2021: DL and DH. At one time the Mets had 18 players on what is now called the IL. The Mets have already played 10 doubleheaders (sweeping two, splitting eight), have at least three already scheduled the rest of the way … and, well, you know what the weather in a New York summer (and fall) can look like. There’ll probably be a few more.

Day 30, June 7: Off-day. Lead: 3.5

The Mets enjoyed a day off in Baltimore after splitting four games with the high-flying Padres, a step up in class for the Mets, who until then had beaten up on weak teams and scuffled against good ones. But they’d take two out of three from the Padres the following weekend, too. Suddenly the standings didn’t feel quite like a typo …

Day 40, June 17: Cubs 2, Mets 0. Lead: 4.5

… and yet, the Mets were — are — still capable of an empty-offense game like this one, when they scratched out two hits against Chicago’s soft-tossing Kyle Hendricks. The lack of offense has been a standard part of this season, regardless of whether the batting order is filled with regulars or Bench-Mob temps. And never do the standings seem more like a typo than days when the bats take a siesta.

Day 51, June 28: Nats 8, Mets 4. Lead: 3.0

The crazy thing is, you keep waiting for someone — Braves, Phillies, Nats, one of them — to make their run at the Mets. They still might. But so far, all three have found that the closer they get to the Mets, the more likely their wings are to melt. The Nats clobbered five home runs. Two of them were by smoking-hot Kyle Schwarber, who looked primed to take out the Mets all by himself … and then four days later strained his hamstring. The Nats lost nine of 11 heading into the break …

Day 61, July 8: Off day. Lead: 4.0

… including a brutal 9-8 loss to San Diego in which Max Scherzer couldn’t hold an 8-0 lead. This was just one of many days when the Mets — rained out against the Pirates — did just fine by not playing at all, letting the other teams in the East light themselves on fire. It’s happened more than once.

Day 69, July 16: Mets at Pirates. Lead: 3.5

For the first time all year, the Mets ought to be at full strength offensively, with J.D. Davis joining the party, and if he can have a similar impact to Brandon Nimmo … well, it might make the quest to fill out the rotation a little more appetizing. Sixty-nine straight days in first place. Eighty days left in the season. As Neil Young once posed, lyrically: How many more?

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Mike Vaccaro

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