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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

With offense firing, the Mets need to get what they expected from pitching staff

Jason Vargas watches Jonathan Schoop heads for home

Jason Vargas watches Jonathan Schoop heads for home after his three-run home run during the ninth inning on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Raise your hand if you envisioned the 2019 Mets as a slugging, offense-driven team that pummels opponents to cover for a sub-par pitching staff.

Yeah. Me either.

No one did, actually. Because that scenario was considered as unlikely as a balmy April night by Flushing Bay. The Mets have the reigning Cy Young winner atop their high-ceiling rotation, along with a bullpen fortified during the winter by the trade for elite closer Edwin Diaz and the $30-million signing of Jeurys Familia for the setup role.

Their arms were designed to be this team’s strength, with enough bats in this youth-infused lineup to provide adequate run support. But that script has been flipped to a somewhat surprising degree. Even when Noah Syndergaard looked brilliant for most of his seven-plus innings in Wednesday night’s 9-6 victory over the Twins, things still got bumpy late.

Syndergaard struck out seven without a walk, but got knocked around a bit before his eighth-inning exit, and a wobbly Familia tagged Thor with the fourth of four earned runs that actually raised his ERA to 4.74 from 4.50. From there, Familia was bailed out by a nifty double-play with the bases full, then Diaz teed up a solo homer to Mitch Garver in the non-save chance ninth.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Syndergaard said. “Mechanically, it was the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Great for Noah, but in the Mets’ grand pitching scheme, they still have work to do given the inconsistency of their first 11 games. It’s a small sample size, but the numbers represent a neighborhood we didn’t expect Mickey Callaway & Co. to be hanging out in.

After Wednesday night’s victory, the rotation’s 4.33 ERA ranked 18th in the majors, with a .243 batting average (15th) and a 1.20 WHIP (12th). The Mets starters managed to crack the top 10 with a 3.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio that put them sixth.

That’s the good news. The bullpen has been significantly worse, with a 6.51 ERA ranked 25th, a .304 batting average (26th), a 1.73 WHIP (25th) and a 2.29 K/BB ratio (16th).

“We have a great pitching staff — and we will at some point — but we’ve got to weather the storm,” Callaway said before Wednesday night’s game. “They’ll pick up the slack soon.”

We agree with Callaway. These are not trends anyone expects to continue. But in what should be an extremely tight NL East, there isn’t much wiggle room for prolonged lapses of any sort, and the Mets need to get what they anticipated from this pitching staff. The front office made a slight adjustment Wednesday night by summoning Corey Oswalt — the No. 1 starter at Triple-A Syracuse — to take Tim Peterson’s long-relief spot.

Oswalt is the primary candidate to fill the next hole in the rotation, and whether that someday is created by the further slippage of Jason Vargas remains to be seen. But for now, the Mets don’t seem all that motivated to beef up their pitching staff with either Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel, whose price tags can’t help but drop with each passing day.

The Mets remain in a due-diligence stance on these two free agents, according to sources, should a pressing need suddenly open up. But they don’t see themselves in a desperate position at the moment, and if a rival or two jumps at either one — as the Phillies or Nats certainly could — so be it. The Mets don’t sound anxious to make a move on them.

The fear that Zack Wheeler possibly showed regression with his seven-walk performance Sunday, or Vargas’ 9.00 ERA, or the middle-relief conundrum, apparently won’t nudge Brodie Van Wagenen to consider outside help this early. The GM insists they have the personnel to be a dominant pitching staff — just as they thought this winter — and he believes it will eventually become that before too long.

“You’ll have to ask me as time goes on if I’m concerned,” Van Wagenen said Wednesday afternoon. “But right now, I’m not concerned. I think that we want to make sure we’re putting guys in the right matchups and we’re using them with the proper rest and workload.”

That’s been debatable. Callaway’s bullpen strategy again is questionable at times, but as far as we can tell, everybody is still healthy. For the Mets, their biggest obstacles on the pitching front tend to be medical in nature. And as long as they avoid an MRI tube, this group should perform as advertised, just as Callaway and Van Wagenen drew it up.

“These guys are great pitchers,” Van Wagenen said “and we have every belief they’ll continue to be.”

The sooner, the better.

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