After defeating the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday night in an emotional extra-inning affair, the Mets return to Citi Field to begin a week-long homestand against the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Mets are still in last place with a 12-16 record, they're not as far out of contention as their record and division standing would suggest. In fact, parity in baseball has made fans in every major league city hold on to hopes of meaningful baseball games in the summer.
Because baseball doesn't have a salary cap, it's difficult to achieve parity. Usually the teams with the highest payrolls have the best chance to extend their seasons past 162 games. More often than not, these teams usually finish well above .500 and have a relatively simple time making their way to the postseason. However, in the early going this season, an overwhelming number of teams are right around the .500 mark.
As of today, only five teams in baseball are more than three games above .500. Those teams are the Indians (19-8), Marlins (18-9), Phillies (18-9), Rockies (17-9) and Yankees (17-9). With identical 16-13 records, the Angels, Rangers and Cardinals can all lay claim to having the sixth-best record in baseball.
Want more proof that there's parity in baseball? Of the 30 teams in the major leagues, a whopping 20 franchises (or two-thirds of all clubs) are between three games over .500 and four games under .500. At 12-16, the Mets are one of those 20 teams that are separated by a mere 3½ games.
Let's now focus strictly on the National League. As of now, only four NL teams have winning records (Marlins, Phillies, Rockies, Cardinals). The Mets have played three of these four teams (they don't play St. Louis until after the All-Star Break) and are a combined 4-9 against them. Against all other opponents, the Mets have a winning record (8-7). After 28 games, the Mets have played nearly half of their schedule against teams that have winning percentages above .650. What about those three .650+ teams? How have the Marlins, Phillies and Rockies racked up so many wins early on? A quick look at their early season schedules reveal quite a tale.
The Marlins have played 27 games, but only six of them have come against teams with winning records. The Phillies have also played 27 games, with only two of those games being played against above-.500 teams (they split those two games against the Marlins). Meanwhile, the Rockies have played three of their 26 games against a winning team, losing two of three to the Marlins.
That means the Mets have played more games against the "elite" teams in the National League (13) than the Marlins, Phillies and Rockies have played combined (11). Of course the Marlins, Phillies and Rockies have good records. They've feasted on the dregs of the National League!
In addition, neither one of those three teams has played more games on the road than at home. The Mets, on the other hand, have played 15 of their 28 games away from Citi Field.
Now the Mets come back home, where they won their last four ballgames before going 3-3 on their recent Washington/Philadelphia trip. They will be facing the Giants and the Dodgers, teams with a combined 28-30 record. Meanwhile, the Marlins will playing six of their next nine games against teams with winning records (Cardinals, Phillies), while the Phillies will be facing their first real test of the season, with series against the Marlins and three of the other five division leaders (Cardinals, Rangers, Rockies) over the next three weeks.
The Mets are in last place now, but they have the opportunity to make a statement this week at home against the Giants and Dodgers. Parity is the name of the game in the major leagues this season, and the teams that have risen above it have done so by taking advantage of their weak early season schedules. But all that is about to change in the next few weeks. Will the Mets be able to rise if the other teams fall? If they do, this week's homestand could give new hope for the team and its fans.