The NL East will not end the exact way it stands today, at least that's what three scouts, two rival executives and my own common sense is telling me...
"If you think this thing doesn't move, and then move again, you're either not paying attention to the talent or you haven't watched enough baseball in your life," I was told last week by an NL East team executive who has been in baseball for decades. "It's still a four-team race, regardless of the standings, and that's how we're all looking at it."
The Phillies have been playing well, but have also been playing the least competitive teams, which is almost certainly inflating their stats and perceived dominance. At the same time, the Mets and Braves are playing better opponents and because so have been bobbing around .500. The Mets and Braves have also bounced around between being league average to slightly-below league average in runs scored and runs allowed.
"The Phillies may have the best record in our division, but they also have the worst record compared to the top teams in the other two divisions," a friend from a rival front office told me. "This matters because, so far, their schedule has been mostly made up of playing the rest of us at a time when we've all been injured or struggling."
This is true...
The Twins, Mets, Cardinals and Brewers are the four teams to date that have been above .500 when playing the Phillies.
I hope the Phillies enjoyed it because during their next 22 games they will play the Dodgers, Padres, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs and Rockies. The final 16 of the above stretch includes a lot of travel going from Chicago to Milwaukee back home for just three nights followed by a West Coast run to Los Angeles and San Diego before returning to Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, during their next 15 games, the Mets -- who won their previous two games -- will again face the Marlins, two series against the Nationals and conclude against the Tigers. The Braves have a similarly less-difficult schedule.
As a result, of the five sources I surveyed for this post, only two felt the Phillies would hold on to the top spot in the division, mostly because Aaron Nola and Bryce Harper have struggled.
Among the remaining three insiders, all felt Philadelphia's schedule and potential for drama would negate its hot start; none felt the Nationals and their bullpen could climb to the top, though all believe they'll at some point claw back to .500; one felt, given their youth and experience from last season, the Braves are best suited to leap into first place; and all felt the Mets had the makings of a team that can get above .500, stay there, add at the trade deadline and (because of their pitching) be consistent enough to out pace the competition.
"For the Mets, it's all about the front of their rotation and the back of their bullpen," one of three said, repeating what most have been saying since spring training. "They went through a rough month, but look good lately. If those two ends are healthy and performing, everything in the middle will be fine."
And speaking of the middle, all three scouts agree that Jeff McNeil has the consistent approach and fundamental tools to win a batting title. Similarly, while they uniformly think Pete Alonso will go through the natural ups and downs of a rookie. They say he's looked comfortable in the field and -- at the very least -- his power at the plate is here to stay...
"Just when I thought we were done dealing with Giancarlo Stanton, this kid shows up looking and punishing the baseball just like him," one NL East executive said with a laugh, though I get the feeling he wasn't totally joking.
If there is a concern, the three scouts say the team's infield defense needs to better if the Mets intend to sustain a winning streak.
"Getting back Jed Lowrie should help, but he alone can't make up for Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano and Alonso, who are inconsistent and can hurt you at any moment."
To date, the Mets have the third-worst defense in baseball, according to FanGraphs, which lists the Braves and Nationals also in the bottom 10. The Phillies check in at No. 14.
"We'll be all right," Jacob deGrom recently said, according to the LA Times, when asked about the team's fielding and potential for improvement.
I'm reluctant to site injuries as a reason to be hopeful for the Mets and their remaining season because -- as we've seen in previous years -- things don't always pan out when just counting on guys coming off the injured list. But, the fact is, excuse or not, Mickey Callaway's crew has been down in manpower more than the other teams in the NL East.
The Phillies may have missed Scott Kingery (hamstring) and David Robertson (elbow injury). The Braves may have missed Chad Sobotka (abdomen). And the Nationals may have spent time without Howie Kendrick (neck), Matt Adams (shoulder) and Trea Turner (finger). But the Mets have certainly missed time with Steven Matz, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Todd Frazier, Justin Wilson and deGrom, all while having a difficult schedule.
"It's the nature of the game," one NL East executive said. "Someone has to be hit the hardest and, so far, it's been the Mets. But that doesn't mean we're not next. It's always in the back of your mind and you always have to be prepared for it."
By the way, "Don't sleep on the Marlins," a local scout told me. "Those kids do not quit. They also have a nice group of young arms. If they can put that all together -- even if they don't hit enough yet to rip off a big streak -- I do think they can make life difficult for some teams down the stretch."
The point is, no matter what my fellow fans and colleagues want to tell me, I know nothing is etched in stone. And, the above insiders all agree. The NL East has been a mess and likely will remain a mess because each team is talented and beating up on another. This is what was expected as recently as just four weeks ago, it's what is panning out today and will continue to be over the next four and a half months... Sorry, Philly.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!