The Pirates face the Mets for the first time this season on Friday, when they'll kick off a three-game series at PNC Park. In recent years, the Mets have mostly been on Pirates fans' radar when the two teams have been trade partners, with the Bucs dealing Dilson Herrera and Vic Black (both of whom are now on the disabled list) for Marlon Byrd and John Buck in 2013, and two minor-leaguers for Ike Davis in 2014. This season, though, the Mets might not need to trade veterans at the deadline, as they're currently five games above .500. Here's a look at their roster.
POSITION PLAYERS: .236/.301/.359, 3.6 fWAR, 10th in the National League. Lucas Duda has continued hitting after a strong 2014 season, proving the Mets right yet again for picking him as their first baseman over Davis. If you ask some in the New York media, shortstop is the Mets' biggest problem, but Wilmer Flores has performed surprisingly well at the position this year, hitting six home runs while grading well defensively. Center fielder Juan Lagares is still a beast defensively.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis was a disaster in 40 plate appearances before being designated for assignment this week, infielders Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy haven't hit much, and corner outfielders Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer haven't done much to justify the Mets signing them. Granderson, at least, has his fair share of home runs (five) and walks (23 in 163 plate appearances), and he's hit very well this month, although his defense has fallen off a cliff as he's aged. David Wright is currently hurt, and Eric Campbell and/or Murphy will take his place at third.
PITCHING: 3.08 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.51 xFIP. 5.4 fWAR, fourth in the National League. The Mets' rotation is legit, even without Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery in March. The Pirates will face rookie Noah Syndergaard on Friday, followed by Matt Harvey on Saturday and Jon Niese on Sunday. Syndergaard made his big-league debut May 12 and didn't pitch well, although he fared better in a followup start last weekend. His fastball is blazing (averaging 96.9 MPH this year, ridiculous for a starter), but there's hope for the Pirates to get to him, due to his inexperience. Harvey, of course, is a terror. He strikes out everyone, walks almost no one, and throws in the mid- to high 90s with terrific breaking pitches. Niese is sort of a generic, grounder-generating lefty starter -- Jeff Locke with slightly better control.
The Pirates will miss Bartolo Colon, whose 42nd birthday is on Sunday. Before getting crushed by the Cardinals Wednesday, he'd issued one walk in 51.1 innings this year as the second oldest player in the league. The Mets have enviable depth behind Syndergaard, Harvey, Niese, Colon and Jacob deGrom -- if they need more pitching, they can turn to yet another good young pitcher in Steven Matz, who's posted strong numbers at Triple-A Las Vegas.
The Mets' bullpen is also capable. Jeurys Familia has filled in admirably for the suspended Jenrry Mejia at closer, and the Mets have also gotten good work from Carlos Torres and Erik Goeddel. Rookie Hansel Robles is the sort of good young reliever every team seems to have one of -- he's 24 and mostly unknown, but he throws very hard and has good enough control to get the job done. Lefty Jack Leathersich, another 24-year-old rookie, has only pitched a handful of innings in the big leagues but has an intimidating track record. (Dude struck out 354 batters in 208.2 minor-league innings. That's not easy to do.) Sean Gilmartin and Alex Torres, both lefties, are the bullpen's weakest links.
OUTLOOK: The Mets have seemed content with 75-win seasons for so long that it's difficult to take them seriously now that they're 23-18, but the closer I look at their roster, the more I like it. Beyond Duda, their offense isn't spectacular, and their core of position players isn't strong or deep enough -- their bench has been a problem at times this season. But Lagares is one of baseball's most exciting defenders, and the Mets have their fair share of interesting young hitters in Travis d'Arnaud (who's hurt), Kevin Plawecki (who's currently filling in for d'Arnaud at catcher) and Flores. Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom could form an excellent top three in their rotation, with more help on the way. And the Mets have several relievers who are either flat-out good (Familia) or very interesting (Robles, Leathersich). The Mets aren't likely to be able to stave off the Nationals and aren't even a great bet for a Wild Card spot, but there's more talent here than I thought heading into the season.