Why Mets are serious World Series threat with second half of season set to start

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Brandon Nimmo, Jacob deGrom, Trevor May, Jonathan Villar TREATED ART
Brandon Nimmo, Jacob deGrom, Trevor May, Jonathan Villar TREATED ART

The Mets ended the unofficial first half of the 2021 MLB season with a record of 47-40, holding a 3.5 game lead (4.0 in the loss column) on the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in what has been a mediocre NL East.

But while the Mets are in the best shape they've been at the All-Star break in quite some time, and have been in complete control atop the division, there is a vocal portion of the fan base and some in the media who were underwhelmed by the first half performance.

Their refrain: The Mets should've taken greater advantage of how bad the rest of the division has been, their offense still hasn't totally woken up, and they need some serious reinforcements before the trade deadline if they want to be true contenders.

It's a fair opinion to have, but I disagree with it.

I think the Mets are serious World Series contenders right now, and that what they overcame in the first half of the season helped prove it.

When looking at what the Mets did over the first 87 games of their season, it needs to be done in a nuanced, measured way. And if you examine it in that fashion -- instead of, say, running around like a chicken with your head cut off over last Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates -- you might come to the conclusion that the Mets persevered through one of the most trying first halves of a season they've ever had.

And you might conclude that -- as they begin the second half of the season on Friday night against the Pirates in Pittsburgh -- the Mets are primed to bury their competition in the NL East.

New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil (right) celebrates his walk-off single against the Milwaukee Brewers with right fielder Michael Conforto (30) at Citi Field.
New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil (right) celebrates his walk-off single against the Milwaukee Brewers with right fielder Michael Conforto (30) at Citi Field.

When thinking back to the first half of the season and predicting what might happen in the second half, it's important to note that...

- The Mets were decimated by injuries to the point where they had lineups earlier this season that were half made up of minor leaguers. Not backups, but minor leaguers

- New York just recently got back to mostly full strength on offense with the returns of Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil

- The Mets' schedule was interrupted so badly that they have already played 10 doubleheaders this season -- the most by any team by the All-Star break since the 1978 Toronto Blue Jays

- The team just emerged from a brutal stretch of 33 games in 31 days

- It is hard to sweep doubleheaders. And if not for those 10 doubleheaders, it's fair to believe the Mets would've banked some more wins

- Carlos Carrasco, the Mets' expected No. 2 starter coming into the season, has not yet pitched

Jul 7, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets injured starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) works out in the outfield before a double header against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field.
Jul 7, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets injured starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) works out in the outfield before a double header against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field.

- Noah Syndergaard, who was expected to be back right around now, is looking at a return around Sept. 1

- Francisco Lindor spent most of the first two months of the season searching at the plate. He is not searching anymore, having slashed .267/.363/.473 with seven homers and seven doubles in his last 42 games

Now, highlighting the above does not absolve the Mets' offense from sleepwalking through portions of April and June. Nor does it mean that the team is close to perfect.

But after making it through an incredibly tough first half and with the team still waiting on the returns of Carrasco and Syndergaard, the Mets -- with one of the most sound teams in baseball -- seem well-positioned to challenge for their first World Series title since 1986.

Any team that reaches the postseason has a chance, but there are some teams -- such as the Minnesota Twins of recent vintage -- that never feel like a true contender to win it all. The Mets feel like a true contender...

- The starting rotation, led by Jacob deGrom and featuring Taijuan Walker and Marcus Stroman, should get a huge boost with the return of Carrasco within the next few weeks and could get an even bigger one if Syndergaard returns. Either way, their top priority should be adding a starter before the trade deadline, regardless of how solid rookie Tylor Megill has been

- The bullpen has been a huge plus, with Edwin Diaz again being dominant and reliable and additions such as Trevor May and Aaron Loup coming up big

Jun 14, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) reacts after defeating the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field.
Jun 14, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) reacts after defeating the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field.

- The bench has been terrific, with Jonathan Villar stepping into a regular role and Kevin Pillar becoming a favorite of teammates and fans with his play

- The defense, which was one of the worst in baseball over the better part of the last decade, has become one of the best

- Luis Rojas has been tremendous in the clubhouse and in front of the media, and has been an aggressive and thoughtful in-game manager

For the Mets, all the pieces seem to be falling into place.

New York has scored 52 runs in 10 games since Nimmo came off the IL on July 3, the return of Carrasco should solidify the rotation, and some reinforcements should be expected via trade between now and the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline.

There's also the state of the rest of the NL East.

The Phillies remain relatively close to the Mets, but their bullpen is a huge concern. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves recently lost star Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season, the Washington Nationals are seven losses back, and the Miami Marlins are 10 losses back.

There is a long way to go for the Mets to win their first NL East title since 2015, but if they do, they should be one of the most feared teams when the playoffs begin in October.