Scouts offer 5 reasons why Mets should be taken seriously as playoff contenders

For all the fight they’ve shown so far, the 2024 Mets have looked too flawed to be considered a championship contender. Yet as we’ve seen the last couple of years, anything is possible if you sneak in even as the third Wild Card team.

And right now, at just 18-18, the Mets are tied for that final Wild Card spot in the National League, along with the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals.

Is that significant? Early or not, it could be an indication of parity in the NL this season other than the three elite teams -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Atlanta Braves.

And while these Mets can be exasperating for their fans to watch on a daily basis, issuing way too many walks, giving up stolen bases by the boatload, and looking very inconsistent offensively, it’s their toughness in responding to deficits and frustrating losses that may be their most notable trait.

We’ll know a little more in a week, as they have seven games dead ahead with the Braves and Phillies that surely will be revealing in some form or fashion.

But if the early league-wide returns offer evidence that it’s only going to take 84 wins or so, as it did last year, to reach the postseason, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Mets should be able to stay in the Wild Card hunt.

In fact, three scouts I spoke to this week, as well as a Mets evaluator, were a bit higher on the Mets’ potential this season than I expected, with all of them saying they see potential for improved play as the season moves along.

Here are their reasons:

1. The presumed return of Kodai Senga, together with the dazzling debut of Christian Scott last Saturday, raises the ceiling for a starting rotation that has been solid already, though prone to walks and a lack of length.

"There’s a lot to like there, if the pieces fall into place," one scout said. "Scott looks like the real thing. If Senga is healthy he’s a proven front-end-of-the-rotation guy. And (Luis) Severino, (Sean) Manaea, and (Jose) Quintana can all dominate on their good days."

2. The most glaring flaws -- the starting rotation having the highest walk total in the majors and the catchers having the worst caught-stealing percentage in the majors -- are both at least somewhat correctable.

"The walks have been a little weird, almost like they’re contagious, even for starters that haven’t walked a lot of guys in the past," a second scout said. "I would think that’ll even out a bit, and just having Scott in there instead of (Adrian) Houser should bring a course correction.

"Also, it looks like they just need to do some work as a group on the base-stealing. They’ve got some pitchers who are slow to the plate but they can do a lot more to counter the running game, even if it’s just varying their times with holds and throw-overs. I saw (Francisco) Lindor get angry the other day when he faked the runner back to second and Reed Garrett didn’t time up his pitch with him. He waited instead, the runner re-established his lead, and then he stole third.

"I’m sure they worked on that kind of stuff in spring training. Everybody does. But (Carlos Mendoza) needs to get everybody out there at 3 o’clock one day and let them know it’s not acceptable. I would think he will. He can’t do much about (Omar) Narvaez, who’s not a good thrower, but (Tomas) Nido is OK. You just can’t let teams run wild on you."

3. The presumed return of Francisco Alvarez from his surgery for a torn thumb ligament should give the Mets a lift both offensively and defensively.

"I think they miss him in a lot of ways," the same scout said. "He seems like an energy guy, for starters. I’m not sure yet how he’s going to shake out overall as a hitter, but even if he’s a low average guy he’ll hit his home runs, and they miss that. And his throwing will help with the base-stealing stuff.

"If he comes back healthy I could see them eventually keeping Nido as the backup over Narvaez. They’d have to eat some money on Narvaez’s contract but they need the better defense behind the plate."

4. The expected emergence of Pete Alonso from his deep funk at the plate, together with more consistency from Lindor and the catch-up of J.D. Martinez from his late start all figure to make the offense more productive on a day-to-day basis.

"Alonso might be putting too much pressure on himself because he wants a mega-deal" said the third scout. "But I think he’ll get past that. When he’s not overswinging he’s got a solid approach because he’ll take the ball the other way and he can do it with power.

"Eventually I think Alonso will benefit from having Martinez hitting behind him. Martinez is such a routine-oriented guy that he was probably lost without spring training, but he’s starting to look a little more comfortable. And Lindor is waiting on the ball better; he’s not jumping at the breaking stuff like he was earlier.

"So I think you’ll see more quality at-bats from those guys in the middle of the lineup, which should translate to much better results as an offense."

5. Edwin Diaz shakes off a couple of rough outings over the last week and realizes his fastball is still good enough, even if it’s down a couple of ticks from 2022.

"I think the home run by (the CubsChristopher) Morel got in his head a little bit and he shied away from his fastball for a couple of outings," said the Mets evaluator. "He threw nothing but sliders in Tampa and it cost him when he hung one to (Randy) Arozarena.

"He’s got a great slider but if you throw enough of them, you’re going to hang a few, and you have far less chance of getting away with it if hitters see you’re not throwing your fastball. He might not be throwing 100 (mph) right now, but 97 is plenty, especially if he locates it. It’s the combination of the fastball and slider that make him so effective.

"He came back and attacked with the fastball (in St. Louis) so that was a good sign."

Added a scout on Diaz: "He’s still got elite stuff. I think he’ll be fine. And overall I think they have one of the deepest bullpens in the league, which is prerequisite for any contender."

With all of that optimism in mind, it’s nevertheless worth noting that none of the scouts were ready to predict the Mets going on a 2022 Phillies-like run or a 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks-like run, either, as a Wild Card team.

Yet for the reasons stated above, all of them think the Mets should be better than a .500 team the rest of the way. In that case, judging by the early returns on the National League as a whole, the Fighting Mendozas should at least be chasing a Wild Card spot deep into September.