How do the Mets stack up in the NL East?

We’ve been so busy picking apart the Mets roster this off-season, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a broader look at our division rivals to see how we measure up. Unlike other divisions, the NL East does not have a doormat team. The Marlins might not be a playoff favorite, but they’ve got more talent than any other projected fifth place finisher in either league. And, as you’ll see, they’re the least of our concerns. Here’s your annual NL East preview.

Atlanta Braves

Strengths: A strong middle-of-the-order with emerging star Ronald Acuna Jr., MVP/Mets crusher Freddie Freeman, and masher Marcel Ozuna. A strong rotation led by young guns Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson, and a deep bullpen topped by flamethrower A.J. Minter are both bolstered by a collection of carefully assembled veterans.

Weaknesses: The bottom of the lineup is potentially weak as the team is waiting for Austin Riley to establish himself at third and crosses its fingers that the young speedster Christian Pache can take over for the light-hitting Ender Inciarte in center field. Speaking of crossing fingers, as of this writing, the team does not have a proven catcher to back up the ever fragile Travis d’Arnaud. Ozuna can hit, but is a liability in the field and there’s no DH this year.

Best Player: Freeman

Wildcard: Pache

Best Case: Pache and Riley breakout, giving the Braves are strong lineup to support their pitching and they win a fourth consecutive division title.

Worst Case: Ozuna makes errors, d’Arnaud gets hurt, Riley is a bust, Pache isn’t ready and the pitching isn’t good enough to carry them beyond .500.

Prediction: Wild Card

Miami Marlins

Strengths: Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez lead a new wave of young rotation arms that are developing faster than expected. With so many great third basemen, you don’t hear much about Brian Anderson, but he’s a good ball player. Speedy, young outfielders will track down balls in the gap. Starling Marte is still on this team.

Weaknesses: The bullpen is largely unproven and the lineup lacks a real threat.

Best Player: Alcantara

Wildcard: Magneuris Sierra

Best Case: Some of the other young arms like Pablo Lopez, Nick Neidert and Elieser Hernandez develop and the team fights and scratches to a .500 record.

Worst Case: The Marllins get off to a slow start in a competitive division and trade away Marte at the deadline before sinking to last place.

Prediction: 5th place

New York Mets

Strengths: The strongest lineup this team has had since 2006 features power, speed, contact and balance. Adding a dynamic offensive player like Francisco Lindor to an already good lineup is scary for other teams. Jacob deGrom is without question the best pitcher in the game. A solid and versatile bench and some extra rotation arms should help the Mets overcome the usual injuries. They’ll get a jolt in early June when Noah Syndergaard returns.

Weaknesses: Outfield defense. Starting the season with three of our best pitchers on the IL. A poor fielding third baseman. Question marks in middle relief.

Best Player: deGrom

Wildcard: Syndergaard

Best Case: Those three pitchers return to health and the Mets find another reliable bullpen arm or two among who’s currently on the roster or available at mid-season. With this high octane offense, the pitching doesn’t need to be great, just good and reliable for them to make the playoffs. If Syndergaard comes back strong, this team could win the division and advance in the playoffs.

Worst Case: Syndergaard, Seth Lugo and Carlos Carrasco don’t all make it back and the pitching staff struggles.

Prediction: 1st place

Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: A good lineup with six of their regulars capable of hitting 20+ homers. A strong top of the rotation.

Weaknesses: The bullpen was terrible last year and Archie Bradley won’t be enough to fix it. The backend of the rotation looks like a problem.

Best Player: Bryce Harper

Wildcard: Spencer Howard

Best Case: Howard has a big rookie year to give the Phillies four capable starters and the lineup stays healthy and keeps the team above .500 til the trade deadline when they bring in some reinforcements for the bullpen.

Worst Case: Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola gets injured or Zack Efflin comes back to earth and the pitching proves too thin for this team to be competitive.

Prediction: 3rd place

Washington Nationals

Strengths: Rotation is one of the best with 3-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Veteran Jon Lester is first in line to fill out the backend with Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Joe Ross competing for starts. The addition of Brad Hand should strengthen what should be a solid bullpen. Juan Soto is an absolute monster and Trea Turner is an All Star at shortstop.

Weaknesses: Soto will get walked 150 times as his only protection is Josh Bell. The rest of the lineup besides those two and Turner is hardly imposing. This team hasn’t replaced the departed Harper and Anthony Rendon and can’t consistently score runs. They have too many players than can field but not hit and vice versa.

Best Player: Soto

Wildcard: Carter Kieboom

Best Case: Kieboom develops, Victor Robles starts hitting, and Kyle Schwarber stays healthy and adds thump to the lineup. The key pitchers avoid the IL and this team can battle for a wild card.

Worst Case:  Too many errors in the field, too many runners stranded on base and not enough health among an aging pitching staff.

Prediction: 4th place

Bottom dwellers help sink Mets

After last night’s 7-2 win over the last-place Pirates, the Mets evened their record for the season at 61-61, the only .500 team in the majors. But should the Mets be .500 and how exactly did the club get to be in this position?

If you look at just runs, the Mets should be slightly better than they are. They have a +18 run differential, which works out to a 64-58 mark. Of course, things have really gone south for the club since the All-Star break. In the second half of the year, the Mets have been outscored, 130-99. That run differential should work out to a 12-19 record, a win worse than they have actually been.

So, after underperforming their Pythagorean record by four games in the first half, the Mets have actually outperformed Pythagoras in the second half. A pitching staff that has allowed two runs or less in 15 out of the last 34 games, has certainly helped.

But let’s look at something besides run differential. Instead, let’s focus on how the Mets have done against the best and worst teams in the majors. The Mets have played five of the six division winners, having not played against the Texas Rangers this year.

Against the Yankees, Twins, Braves, Reds and Padres – teams with a combined 362-247 record and a .594 winning percentage – the Mets have gone 16-16. On the flip side, against teams with the worst record in baseball, the Mets have not cleaned up.

When facing Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington, Pittsburgh and Arizona (the Mets did not play Seattle this year) New York has gone 13-12. This is against teams with a 233-379 record and a .381 winning percentage.

The Mets swept Baltimore and Cleveland and so far are 1-0 against the Pirates. The trouble came against Arizona (1-5) and Washington (5-7). Against two teams with a combined .352 winning percentage, the Mets are 6-12. The rest of baseball has a .665 record against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. The Mets play at a .333 clip against them.

If the Mets played as well against those two squads as the rest of baseball, they would have gone 12-6 rather than 6-12 and their overall record would be 67-55. That record would put the Mets five games out and within striking distance of the Braves in the NL East and 2.5 games behind the Phillies for the Wild Card.

The Mets do not play the Diamondbacks the rest of the season. However, they do have six games left with the Nationals. If the Mets hope to finish above .500 this year, they will have to beat teams like Washington like the rest of baseball does. New York also has five games left against Florida, which has defeated the Mets eight times in 13 tries this season.