5 things to watch as Mets and Diamondbacks play three-game series in Arizona

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David Peterson close up in Arizona
David Peterson close up in Arizona

At 10-4, the Mets are rolling behind strong pitching and clutch hitting, and unlike last year, they’re taking advantage of a soft part of their schedule that continues this weekend as they travel to Arizona to square off with the Diamondbacks for a second straight weekend.

Taking three games out of four against the San Francisco Giants went a long way toward legitimizing the Mets’ hot start, but it’s equally important that they continue to drop the hammer on lesser competition. The D-Backs qualify on that count with their 5-8 record and the lowest team batting average in the majors.

The Mets have won each of the first four series they’ve played this season, including two of three against Arizona at home last week. They go into the weekend with a four-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, as no other team in the NL East is above .500.

Here are five things to look for in the series:

1) Mets Pitching Should Dominate

Statistically this is the ultimate mismatch. The Mets’ starters have pitched to a 2.10 ERA, the best in the majors, while the D-Backs are hitting .176, and their 37 runs scored is tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the lowest total in the National League.

The caveat here is the Mets aren’t featuring the top of their rotation in this series. Lefty David Peterson, who has done a great job stepping in for injured Taijuan Walker, pitches Friday night. Then, because of Monday's rainout, the Mets will need a spot starter for Saturday’s game, and though they haven’t announced one, the speculation is the start will go to Trevor Williams, who has been solid out of the pen. And finally, Tylor Megill gets the start on Sunday, with the Mets opting to give Max Scherzer an extra day of rest after he went seven innings and threw 102 pitches in the nightcap of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Megill was touched up for four runs early by the Giants in Tuesday’s opener but showed some toughness in going six innings, and continues to be a revelation as a dominant starter.

2) Will Mets Continue To Be Clutch?

It sort of feels like the 2022 Mets already have more clutch hits than they had all of last season. Or the last two seasons, for that matter. What was a huge failure has become a strength of this team so far, largely due to the influx of veteran hitters such as Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte, who seem to have a much better approach to situational hitting.

The results have been eye-opening. As a team, the Mets are hitting .345 with runners in scoring position and two outs, the second-best such batting average in the majors. By comparison the 2021 Mets hit .204 in those situations last season, second-worst in the NL.

In addition, they are hitting .500 with runners on third base this season, with a rather staggering .833 slugging percentage.

The individual numbers for the newcomers are eye-popping: With RISP, Escobar is hitting .500, Canha .455, and Marte .333. With RISP and two outs, Escobar is hitting .750 (3-for-4), Canha .667 (4-for-6), and Marte .571 (4-for-7).

Mets OF Mark Canha
Mets OF Mark Canha

3) The D-Backs Can Pitch A Little

Arizona’s starting pitchers have a 2.51 ERA, third in the NL, and while their bullpen has been spotty, they have a proven closer in Mark Melancon, who saved their 3-2 win over the Mets last Saturday.

The Mets miss the D-Backs’ best starter so far this season, Merrill Kelly, but for the series opener they get right-hander Zac Gallen, who pitched four scoreless innings at Citi Field last Saturday in his first start of the season.

Like the Mets, the D-Backs had a doubleheader Tuesday after a rainout so they too will need a spot starter on Saturday who has not yet been announced. Madison Bumgarner pitches on Sunday and while he has a 1.38 ERA in three starts, the lefty has had control problems, issuing 10 walks so far in 13 innings. He has mostly been able to pitch out of trouble but has yet to go more than five innings in a start.

4) Can Francisco Lindor Stay Hot?

This looks more like the Lindor the Mets were expecting when they signed him to that 10-year, $341 million contract extension. He’s hitting .308 with four home runs, a 1.035 OPS, and he’s yet another guy hitting in the clutch -- .357 with runners in scoring position, .500 with RISP and two outs.

It’s not a surprise, of course, but after Lindor seemed to wilt under the pressure of the contract last season and react poorly to being booed, it was fair to wonder if he could handle playing in New York, even in Year Two. He’s answering that question nicely so far, looking far more relaxed and less jumpy at the plate than in 2021.

The only strange part is that Lindor has looked less than brilliant defensively at shortstop, making at least few poor throws, including the one that Pete Alonso made a great stretch on in the 10th inning of Tuesday’s doubleheader opener to save what could have been a costly error.

5) Can The Mets’ Bullpen Be Trusted?

After setting off alarms in the first week of the season with some disastrous work, the Mets’ pen settled in and had a strong homestand, getting solid contributions from a number of relievers.

It will take time to prove it can be trusted, however, especially after that first week. But Edwin Diaz has looked very good as the closer, commanding his slider in some big spots in a way that is crucial for him. And Drew Smith looks to be emerging as a dependable power arm who will help in the late innings.

Whether journeyman Chasen Shreve can continue his excellence as a much-needed left-handed presence remains to be seen, but if there is a key to the pen overall it is probably top set-up man Seth Lugo, who has had a couple of shaky outings that have been costly for the Mets and are the reason for his 6.75 ERA.