Mets manager Buck Showalter looks on from the dugout against...

Mets manager Buck Showalter looks on from the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays during an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Mets being maddeningly mediocre (27-27) heading into Tuesday night’s series opener against the Phillies gives us two ways to go with a post-Memorial Day breakdown of this season.

Pointing out the abundant reasons to be concerned with a scary-thin bullpen and aging, injury-prone rotation or suggesting that maybe, just maybe, there is a reason for optimism contained in this Mets’ kiddie-corps-revived lineup.

No one figured Buck Showalter & Co. would have to outmuscle teams after Steve Cohen invested $128.6 million in a rotation headlined by a pair of future Hall of Famers with three Cy Young trophies apiece. But, here on the edge of June, that’s the situation the Mets find themselves in until proven otherwise.

The effort to change that narrative resumed again Tuesday with the enigmatic Kodai Senga on the mound. When a Mets starter goes six innings, they’re 13-0 this season, so there’s a number to shoot for -- primarily to limit the exposure of anyone in the bullpen beyond the high-leverage trio of David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Drew Smith.

Without ready-made relief alternatives in the minors, the Mets are sort of stuck with this top-heavy bullpen until we get considerably closer to the Aug. 1 trade deadline (at least their most drastic need is clearly defined). In the meantime, they’ll have to lean on more consistent length from Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, along with an offense that could finally be performing up to expectations.

Despite the lineup’s incredible good fortune of staying healthy through the first two-plus months (aside from Omar Narvaez’s calf strain), it took until the past two weeks to fire up the engines. Yeah, we know. The Mets did just wrap up a three-day stay in the thin air of hitter-friendly Coors Field. But the numbers are the numbers, and their .808 OPS over the past 12 games ranks second in the majors since May 16. The Mets’ 21 homers is tied with the Yankees and Atlanta for the most during that span, and their 69 runs was the fifth-best total.

It’s easy to identify the catalysts. No one has been hotter than Francisco Alvarez, who was raking at a .309 clip this month (21 games) with seven homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.087 OPS. The rookie catcher began the year as MLB’s No. 1 prospect but had a disappointing spring and even a bumpy start to his emergency call-up as Narvaez’s replacement. His spectacular climb up the learning curve, however, should provide an important lesson about highly-valued young players.


Alvarez’s sudden impact has flipped the Mets’ early-season projections for the catching position, just as Brett Baty did it at third base by unseating 13-year veteran Eduardo Escobar, who has now made himself valuable again in a flexible bench role. Showalter sat Baty for Tuesday’s matchup against Phillies’ lefty Ranger Suarez -- this  manager can only be so progressive when it comes to youngsters -- but Mark Vientos did get the start at DH, hitting fifth behind Pete Alonso.

Vientos is coming off back-to-back starts in Colorado, including Saturday against Rockies righty Chase Anderson, so Showalter could be thawing some on the strict DH platoon, which would be about time considering Daniel Vogelbach’s comical production in that spot (2 HRs, .320 slugging). But did Showalter effectively ice Vientos in playing him sporadically after all the damage (13 HRs, 1.104 OPS) he did at Triple-A Syracuse?

“There’s so many factors every day,” Showalter said Tuesday. “No. 1, you’re trying to win. You’re trying to score more runs than they do in nine innings. But there’s a lot of tiebreaker things, put it that way. There’s a lot of things that I get put in front of me. But you’re looking for a tiebreaker, because these guys are so close.”

Showalter is referencing the piles of data the front office churns out for each game. Filling out lineups, in 2023, is not done according to a manager’s gut feelings. But it makes the job much easier when he’s got better choices, and we’ve seen that gradually come into play with the call-ups of Alvarez and Baty. Vientos, who entered Tuesday hitting .174 (4-for-23) with one homer, still has plenty of convincing to do.

As of now, Alvarez -- moved up to No. 2 spot for the second straight game -- and Alonso are doing the heavy lifting. Alonso has homered in seven of his previous 12 games, giving him an MLB-best 20 overall and maintaining his pace for 60 by season’s end. His 46 RBIs were tops in the NL, and third in the majors.

Even with Francisco Lindor’s uneven year to this point, his 39 RBIs still ranked fourth in the NL before Tuesday night’s game. Brandon Nimmo was among the NL leaders in batting average (.306 - 6th) and on-base percentage (.392 -- 8th) while the under-the-radar Escobar had a productive past two weeks in his cameos (1.009 OPS, one HR).

This roster is going to require some tuning up in the weeks ahead to make up for a disappointing start, to say the least. But the offense could be one less thing to worry about if this recent uptick is for real.

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months