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Five questions for the Mets in the second half

Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard during a spring training

Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard during a spring training workout at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Wednesday March 10, 2021. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The Mets resume their season Friday, when they play the Pirates to begin a three-game series. Here are five questions that will help shape their next few months.

1. What will the Mets do at the trade deadline?

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. The trade deadline is July 30 — a day early this year so it doesn’t fall on a Saturday — and acting general manager Zack Scott has said that adding starting pitching is the priority, but he’ll never say never about other options.

"We're going to explore any opportunity to make the team better, whether that's offensively, in the rotation, in the bullpen," he said recently. "I'm not going to crystal ball anything, but I think there's a possibility of [acquiring a hitter specifically]."

Thus, the rumors connecting the Mets to Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson (under contract through 2023) and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (under contract only through the end of this season). Those probably will continue, but no position is in obvious need of a midseason upgrade, especially as the Mets count on the track record of underperforming hitters such as Michael Conforto.

2. When will Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard pitch?

Carrasco (torn right hamstring) is scheduled to make his first rehabilitation start with High-A Brooklyn on Thursday. The Mets have said he still can return this month, and they might activate him before he is fully stretched out to five/six innings, in effect having him finish his rehab in the majors.

Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) has been playing catch lately. The club expects him back in early September.

Scott framed their returns as "a bonus." Skepticism toward that sentiment would be fair. Adding at least one of these pitchers to Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker and Marcus Stroman would set up the Mets’ playoff rotation nicely — and would seem not to leave an opening for an external big-time starter.

3. Are the Mets’ home/road splits for real?

The Mets are 28-14 at Citi Field and 19-26 at all other ballparks.

The remainder of their schedule tilts toward home games — 39 at Citi, 36 not — and fortunately for them their travel itinerary is rather tame.

The rest of the Mets’ road trips max out at a week each, so no more three-city marathons like they had in May and June. And they leave the Eastern time zone just twice: for a west-coast swing to San Francisco (Aug. 16-18) and Los Angeles (Aug. 19-22), which should be difficult, and for a visit to Milwaukee (Sept. 24-26).

4. Can the Big Three keep this up?

DeGrom, Walker and Stroman have combined for a 2.12 ERA in starting more than half of the team’s games. That is absolutely incredible. All of them are pitching better than they ever have before.

It seems unlikely, however, that they can maintain that level of production. DeGrom (1.08 ERA) doing so would be downright historic. Walker (2.50), who has a long injury history, weeks ago passed his 2018-20 innings total. Stroman (2.75), who didn’t pitch last year, may have started to regress already, posting a 5.14 ERA in his past four starts.

5. Does the NL East stink?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be yes. That would make this the most important question of all, since it would allow the Mets to be mediocre and still be fine. Expected to be perhaps the best division in baseball coming into the year, the NL East features exactly one team with a winning record: the Mets.

Second-place Philadelphia, 3 1/2 games back, has one of the worst bullpens in the majors, including a disaster of a late-innings situation.

Atlanta, the two-time defending champion that is four games behind the Mets, hasn’t spent a single day above .500 and has lost premier hitters Ronald Acuna Jr., Travis d’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna, plus No. 1 starter Mike Soroka, for the year.

Washington, six games back, at times has looked like it would make a run at the Mets but petered out before the break, losing 11 of 13 games against NL West powers Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

And Miami, nine games behind first place, is in trade-deadline seller mode, making last year’s winning record seem like an anomaly.

The NL East is the Mets’ to lose.

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