Ten games into the 2012 campaign, the Mets are 7-3. It’s the time of the season when tiny samples drive our irrational baseball-fan minds to crazy and wonderful places, no matter how often we remind ourselves that many ultimately crappy teams have started better or that 10 games into 2010 Jeff Francoeur had a .535 on-base percentage. And the backlash to the small-sample frenzy — in which I frequently participate — is often so obnoxious and vigorous that it seems unnecessarily grouchy at a time when many fans just want to enjoy their fantasies while they last.
So let’s look at it this way: These 7-3 Mets are the same team that entered the season to low expectations, sure, but those seven wins are banked. The gambler’s fallacy would suggest that the Mets are now more likely to endure a rough stretch after starting the season hot, but rolling three sixes in row doesn’t make the fourth any less likely.
Which is to say that if the Mets perform exactly like the 74.5-win team foreseen by Vegas from here on out — that is, they play to a .460 winning percentage starting now — they win 70 of their remaining 152 games (actually 69.9, but I’m rounding up) and finish the season 77-85. So still not great, but hey, the over.
If the Mets can just muster .500 ball for the rest of the season — you can probably do this math yourself — they finish 83-79 and stay on the fringes of contention until late in the year, and a lot of breathless haters full of authoritative preseason predictions have a lot of explaining to do.
And if these 2012 Mets can somehow manage just one more 7-3 stretch like this one at any point in the season while playing precisely .500 ball for the rest of it, they’re an 85-win team — good enough for postseason play in two of the past 10 seasons in the National League if the new two-Wild Card system were in place.
Maybe that’s a small payoff for what still seems something of a longshot, but then the on-the-field part of the Mets’ early success and our first exposure to their feared division rivals help it seem at least conceivable.
This is where our imaginations run wild: With the Phillies relying on old, injured players and burying their prospects behind veterans like a vintage late-aughts Mets team and the Braves and Nats peppering their offenses with out-machines, the Mets’ lineup appears to rival the Marlins’ for the division’s deepest. The Mets’ defense doesn’t look great, with some lousy defenders and some guys out of position, but the Marlins and Nationals have some lousy defenders and some guys out of position, too. And the Braves have Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman starting in the same infield. (The Phillies’ defense is good.)
The Phillies clearly have the division’s best pitching staff. The Mets… well, they don’t. But they have a constitution some of their competitors lack, with two starters that seem safe bets to throw around 200 innings, two that have stayed mostly healthy for the past two years, one that is Johan Santana, and a nice blend of ceilings and floors at the high levels of their Minor League system.
That’s squinting at the 7-3 team and seeing the best, of course. And it’s the inevitable fallout of a hot start: What once seemed very unlikely now seems just unlikely.
And naturally, it’s that pesky way small fragments of seasons can mess with our heads. All of this could fall apart at any time.
But every day David Wright keeps hitting provides more evidence he could enjoy a rebound season, every double Ruben Tejada lashes in the gap suggests he’ll hit more of them, every game Kirk Nieuwenhuis plays like a Major Leaguer makes it more likely he is one, and every Santana start without incident means another.
It’s 10 games, less than 1/16th of the season, and precious little evidence with which to make any bold declarations about the rest of the Mets’ 2012 season. But little evidence is evidence nonetheless, and most of what we have so far is good.
So that’s cool.