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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets’ fast start is a nice change of fortune

Mets rightfielder Jay Bruce rounds the bases after

Mets rightfielder Jay Bruce rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam in the seventh inning against the Nationals at Nationals Park on Thursday. Credit: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock / Jim Lo Scalzo

WASHINGTON[

Upon closer examination of the Mets’ 5-1 start, it’s easy to downplay what they’ve accomplished, based on small sample sizes and the calendar reading early April.

The counterargument to those detractors, however, is just as effective: It sure beats the alternative.

A few weeks ago, as the Mets slogged through the Grapefruit League schedule, everyone was consumed by the team’s medical updates, fearing what dreadful news the next one might bring. Yoenis Cespedes had a sore shoulder, then a wrist. Jay Bruce’s plantar fasciitis. Jacob deGrom’s stiff back. The freakish line drive that caused a minor fracture of Jason Vargas’ right (non-pitching) hand.

But aside from Dominic Smith’s stubborn quadriceps strain, the Mets survived relatively intact. Not only that, but new manager Mickey Callaway, along with pitching coach Dave Eiland, did a superior job getting this team up to speed in their first seven weeks together.

What else is there to think?

Cespedes, the engine of the Mets’ offense, already has three home runs after taking the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg deep in Thursday’s statement-sending 8-2 rout. It was a more low-key spring training for Cespedes, who perhaps caused the biggest stir by swearing off his beloved golf for this season, but that hasn’t prevented him from flexing his 3-iron form at the plate, as he did by smoking Strasburg’s shin-high fastball into the left-centerfield bleachers.

“It’s just my type of swing,” Cespedes said through his interpreter. “It goes from the top to the bottom.”

Cespedes not only has put away the golf bag for the summer but is making an effort to be less reliant on translating help for his interviews.

A smiling Cespedes was effusive when asked about Michael Conforto’s homer on his first day back from a seven-month rehab for shoulder surgery.

It was a side of Cespedes that teammates often see, but not the rest of us, and you couldn’t help but think a happy Yo is an especially dangerous Yo to opposing pitchers.

After playing only 81 games last season — and being on pace for 30-plus homers — Cespedes has got to be energized by this healthy start, which bodes well for the Mets when complemented by Conforto’s impactful return and Bruce joining the party with Thursday’s grand slam.

“It’s the length of our lineup that’s really impressed me,” Bruce said.

Conforto at the top brings an added power dimension and reunites the Mets’ own Big Three as the team waits for Todd Frazier (.190) to click lower down the order. Callaway went with Jose Reyes at shortstop Thursday for the second straight game over Amed Rosario — perhaps trying to spare the youngster from the dominant Strasburg — but that shouldn’t happen with any regularity.

Through Thursday, the Mets were fifth in the major leagues in OPS (.793) and fifth in batting average (.265) and were averaging 5.0 runs. Pair that with a rotation that was fourth in strikeout/walk ratio (3.80) and seventh in ERA (3.23) — even with Steven Matz’s first clunker — and a bullpen that has been surprisingly airtight, and the results shouldn’t be unexpected.

The Mets’ relief corps is second in ERA (1.16) and K/9 ratio (13.11), behind only the Cubs and Yankees, respectively.

Before the Mets broke camp, Matt Harvey said this team had the potential to “shock” people, even though there were plenty of others, us included, who predicted this group would be a playoff team.

But that’s looking a bit too far ahead. What we’ve witnessed to this point doesn’t even qualify as a trend. But consider that the positive early developments have the chance to mature into something more permanent, if the team’s general health cooperates.

A prime example is the K-machine previously known as Hansel Robles. Of all the bizarre wrinkles to this first week, could anyone have anticipated Robles striking out six of the seven batters he’s faced? The only reason he’s even with the Mets right now is the oblique injury suffered by Anthony Swarzak, the team’s $14-million winter upgrade for the bullpen.

Maybe getting demoted before Opening Day was a wake-up call for Robles. Maybe this is just a dead-cat bounce to his puzzling career. It’s too early to tell about any of this stuff, but the Mets just bulldozed the Nationals in their first meeting and currently sit atop the NL East.

As we said before, it sure beats the alternative.

New York Sports