I think that I have been about as critical of the Mets as anyone so far this year, and Open Bar and I have been saying for a while now that it is a mistake to expect much out of this team (as he already noted). But I think it is still a little premature to write them off, especially given what happened last year. Coincidentally, or not, on May 24, 2007, the Phillies were under .500, in fourth place in the NL East, and 6.5 games out of first (as are the Mets today, almost exactly one year later). And on that same date, the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Cubs (the three other 2007 NL playoff teams), were in last place, third place and second place, respectively. On June 1, 2007, none of the eventual NL playoff teams was in first place and only one of them was over .500 on that date. It was not until July 28, 2007, that the first of these four teams - the Diamondbacks - made it in to first place in their division (tied with LA on that date). And of course, as we all know, the last NL playoff team to take first place in their division was the Phillies (I just stabbed myself in the leg with a No. 3 pencil).
Of course, a number of surprising things had to happen for the Phillies and Rockies to get in, and for the Padres and Mets to fall out (side note: the Padres seem to be getting an absolute free ride here; they collapsed just like the Mets last year, and they suck just like the Mets this year. I know, I know, payroll. But still). I am hardly suggesting that we can count on other teams in the NL East to fall apart at the end of the season, but 6.5 games (six in the loss column) is hardly insurmountable with more than 100 left to play.
I think part of the explanation here is that, while it is impossible to resist the temptation to do so, it just is not appropriate to draw major conclusions based on a team's performance for just over a quarter of a season. In that span, you can see numbers that won't carry through for a whole year. Start with the Phillies. They are a solid team, and played a lot of their best baseball this year without reigning NL MVP, Jimmy Rollins. But their offense is still playing over its head: Chase Utley and Pat Burrell were both putting up unsustainable numbers for a while, and both have started to descend back to earth. Ryan Howard will improve, but strikes out too much. Neither Chris Coste nor Greg Dobbs can continue to hit in the .340's forever. On paper, our pitching staff is still better than theirs (even without an effective Pedro).
The Marlins are a great story, but have too many young pitchers to compete down the stretch. Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez are both going to have solid careers, but I would still take Reyes and Beltran for the long term (yes, I really would). Watch for this team to begin to fade shortly before the All-Star Break.
The Braves actually scare me more than anyone else in this division. Their pitching might prove to be competitive for the full year: Hudson is on par with Santana, Jair Jurrjens (or whatever) looks legit, Glavine will be serviceable, and their other starters have all performed pretty well. Their offense is solid (Chipper will cool off, but won't struggle), and their bullpen looks good (at least against us). They can't win on the road, which seems odd, but might correct itself by the end of the year.
The point is that while each of these teams has undeniably played better than the Mets, each of them has done so with almost all of their players performing at or above expectations. With the exceptions of Ryan Church and Billy Wagner, I think it is fair to say that every met has underperformed reasonable expectations for the year so far. Wright and Santana are close calls, but I think we could have expected better than 5-3 with 932 home runs out of Santana, and I know that Wright's numbers look decent right now, but other than one weekend when he was on an absolute tear in Philly, he has not been playing at his highest level.
The rest of the team is really just miserable. Beltran, Reyes, and Delgado have all disappointed, and it is reasonable to expect Maine and Perez to last longer than the fifth inning. I am pretty sure Mike Pelfrey really is that bad, so forget him.
I am not saying that I expect the Mets to make the playoffs, but I am saying that if everyone in the NL East regresses to the mean over a full season, I think we can expect it to be a bit closer, and the Mets to play a bit better. I can accept and admit that they may not be the best team in the division, but I struggle to believe that this is really a .500 team.