5 things to watch as Mets face Guardians in three-game set at Progressive Field

The Mets are staggering a bit as they head to Cleveland to play the hot Guardians, having lost seven of their last 10 games while watching Edwin Diaz melt down badly enough to lose his closer’s job, at least temporarily.

In addition, the offense was in such a funk that manager Carlos Mendoza finally shook up the lineup on Saturday in Miami, moving Francisco Lindor to leadoff and Brandon Nimmo to the No. 3 spot. The 16 runs the Mets scored the next two days mostly had little to do with the shake-up, but the key figures finally made it pay off as well, as Lindor singled and Nimmo homered in the ninth inning on Sunday.

In short, there’s a lot going on with the Mets as they try to figure things and out and get back to playing winning baseball.

The Guardians, meanwhile, could give them some pointers in that regard, considering they are 30-17 with a team that doesn’t have much star-power but finds ways to win with one of the best bullpens in the majors and a pesky offense that makes contact, steals bases, and hits in the clutch.

Here are 5 Things To Watch For in the series:

The Guardians just win

They seem to be a sum-of-their-parts type of team this season, with rookie manager Stephen Vogt earning nothing but raves as he follows Terry Francona’s reign in Cleveland, which is no small feat.

The Guardians strength is their pitching, especially the bullpen, which sports a 2.95 ERA, tied with the Yankees for best in the majors. Hard-throwing closer Emmanuel Clase has been nearly flawless, allowing one earned run in 22 1/3 innings for a 0.40 ERA, and several other relievers have impressive numbers as well.

The starting rotation is solid but not terribly imposing, having lost ace Shane Bieber to injury. In fact, on Tuesday the Mets face old friend Carlos Carrasco, who is pitching to a 5.16 ERA in eight starts.

Offensively they’re led, as always, by Jose Ramirez, who is having a so-so season for him so far, with a .797 OPS. Josh Naylor leads the Guardians in home runs with 12, while former Met Andres Gimenez is hitting .277 with a .724 OPS. Steven Kwan, hitting .353 with a .903 OPS, will miss the series due to a hamstring injury.

The Guardians are fifth in the majors in runs scored at least partly because they’ve been good when it counts, hitting .296 with runners in scoring position, the fourth-best average in the majors, and an MLB-best .250 with RISP and two outs.

Who's the closer?

With Diaz apparently out of the mix, for the moment, Adam Ottavino is the logical candidate, as the primary set-up man so far who is pitching well (2.95 ERA), especially with lefty Brooks Raley remaining on the IL with a shoulder injury.

However, much could depend on how Mendoza wants to best utilize their X-factor reliever, Reed Garrett. On Sunday after Garrett pitched a dominant and efficient eighth inning, Mendoza decided to let him pitch the ninth as well, and the right-hander closed out the 7-3 win without any problem, striking out four of the seven hitters he faced.

Garrett has been a great weapon for Mendoza as a multi-inning reliever but his splitter is such a dominant pitch that he could be the best candidate to close, especially since Ottavino’s long delivery makes him very vulnerable to the stolen base.

Apr 24, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) at bat against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at Oracle Park.

Can a return to Cleveland jumpstart Lindor?

The Mets’ shortstop has a .306 lifetime average with an .889 OPS at Progressive Field, where he played for six seasons with Cleveland. Can the friendly confines of his old home ballpark shake him of his recurring slumps this season?

His latest funk had reached 1-for-28 by mid-game Sunday when he hit a couple of hard singles in his final two at-bats to get his average up to .197.

Lindor is a notorious slow starter, but only once in his career was he below .200 this late into the season: in 2021, while being booed in his first year with the Mets, he was hitting .185 on May 20th with a .574 OPS.

All indications are that Mendoza will stick with Lindor in the leadoff spot for the immediate future.

Six-man rotation here to stay?

The Mets aren’t saying that, but for the second time around the rotation they’re adding an extra starter, giving their pitchers extra rest.

This time both Tylor Megill and Adrian Houser are returning to the rotation, Megill from injury and Houser from his slump-induced bullpen stint.

As a result, Joey Lucchesi is back in Triple-A Syracuse and rookie Christian Scott won’t pitch again until Friday at home against the San Francisco Giants, with six days between starts.

Scott’s potential innings limit is probably a factor in the Mets' strategy at the moment, and if Kodai Senga ever returns from injury, the presence of him and Scott would be further cause for a six-man rotation.

Road sweet road

Why do the Mets hit so much better on the road than at home? They say they have no clue but the numbers make for a stark contrast.

In 22 road games the Mets are hitting .267, second-best average in the majors, with a .313 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage, and a .752 OPS.

In 24 home games they’re hitting .207, which ranks last in the majors, with a .286 on-base percentage, .323 slugging percentage, and a .609 OPS.