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Five second-half questions for the Mets

New York Mets third baseman Jose Reyes returns

New York Mets third baseman Jose Reyes returns to the dugout after the top of the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins in an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

1. Where can the Mets get better by the trade deadline?

For now, the kind of blockbuster trade that brought Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets last season appears out of reach, especially with the club’s unwillingness to deal top prospect Amed Rosario. And the Mets likely will wait on Zack Wheeler’s progress from Tommy John surgery before looking hard at a starting pitching market that rival executives expect to be slim. Perhaps the most likely upgrade will be in the bullpen, where the Mets have been keeping an eye out for a solid arm to round out the back of the bullpen alongside setup man Addison Reed and closer Jeurys Familia. The Mets gave Antonio Bastardo a two-year deal worth $12 million, hoping that he would be the third big gun out of the bullpen. But the 30-year-old lefty has endured one of the worst stretches of his career with a 4.91 ERA in 35 appearances.

2. Do the Mets have enough starting depth to weather the storm?

In one way, it’s stunning that the Mets face this question, given all the young talent in the starting rotation. But in another way, it was entirely too predictable, given the nature of pitching. Logan Verrett, a solid spot starter last season, has been bad in that role this year. Sean Gilmartin’s big-league success has come as a long reliever. Prospect Gabriel Ynoa is an unknown and Rafael Montero’s stock as a prospect has gone off a cliff. Noah Syndergaard has a bone chip in his elbow and is now dealing with a suddenly MIA fastball. Steven Matz also has a bone chip, though his is bad enough that every start could be his last. And Wheeler’s rehab from Tommy John surgery has been slow.

3. When will Lucas Duda return?

For all of his maddening inconsistency, and his perceived inability to deliver in big situations, the Mets have missed Duda. He remains on the disabled list recovering from a stress fracture in his back. He has yet to begin baseball activities. But the longer he’s sidelined, the more his absence is felt. Veteran James Loney has been solid at the plate (.277/.336./.774) while providing improved defense at first base. Yet, even that production is dwarfed by the .838 OPS Duda posted last year. Cespedes (.955 OPS) has been as good as advertised, though he’ll need more help if the Mets intend to translate that production into a playoff berth.

4. What is the right mix with the pieces they already have?

Circumstance has forced the Mets to improvise. For example, it’s why Wilmer Flores has gone from utilityman, starter, and utilityman again. And it’s why the Mets extended a second chance to Jose Reyes despite uproar from some fans in the aftermath of his domestic violence arrest and subsequent suspension. But the Mets have yet to learn exactly how those pieces are best deployed. For example, no one has shown the ability to provide a spark off the bench. And it’s unclear what Reyes still can produce when used nearly every day.

5. Are the Mets really this bad offensively?

The first-half numbers were staggering. The Mets blasted 122 homers, second in the National League only to their division rivals, the Nationals, who they trail by six games. But the Mets scored just 3.64 runs per game, third to last in the league, an indictment of their lackluster ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Remarkably, the Mets managed to mimic the offensive failings of the first half even with a much better roster that includes Cespedes. The Mets hit .213 with runners in scoring position, or 21 points behind the next worst in the NL, the Phillies. There is evidence to suggest that the Mets’ failing was somewhat of a fluke. But one thing is clear: the Mets can’t afford a repeat in the second half.

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