Should The Mets Be Worried About The Surging Braves And Those Four Losses To The Astros?

By one important measure, this has already been a wildly successful first half for the Mets.

When June concludes tonight, the Mets will have dodged disaster in a typically fateful month— their 13-12 mark this month is their first winning June since 2012 — and will reside in first place in the NL East. That’s the same place they stood as April and May ended, which makes this the first season since 2006 the Mets have ended each of the first three months atop the division.

And at 47-29, the Mets are on a 100-win pace — they haven’t won more than 90 since the aforementioned 2006 season — and just percentage points behind the powerhouse Dodgers in the race for the best record in the NL.

But it’s hard to blame Mets fans — for whom the agonizing fashion in which the Mets came within one base hit of the NL pennant in 2006 might have been just the fourth-most painful postseason-related happening during the first decade of the 21st century — for fretting over what’s going wrong lately instead of relishing what’s gone right for almost three months.

The Mets opened the month with a 10 1/2-game lead over the Braves, but that advantage is down to 3 1/2 games thanks to a blistering June by the reigning World Series champions, who actually missed a chance to gain more ground tonight by falling to the Phillies, 14-4.

And one-third of the Mets’ losses this month came against the perpetually championship-contending Astros, who completed their second interleague sweep in the span of a week Wednesday by earning a 2-0 win at Citi Field. Those defeats — and the Braves’ surge — were reminders of the two main obstacles between the Mets and their path to playing deep into October.

A rematch with the Astros in the World Series certainly wouldn’t begin with the Mets starting Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Williams, who combined to allow 14 runs 10 2/3 innings in three games against Houston. Yet it’s anything but guaranteed those games — or the first two games of any preceding playoff series — will be started by the tandem of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.

The potential pairing of two pitchers who have won a combined five Cy Young Awards evokes memories of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling carrying the Diamondbacks to a championship in 2001. But with the season basically half complete, the duo have combined for just eight starts — all by Scherzer, who was performing at his normal standards (he was 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings) before suffering an oblique injury on May 18. Scherzer is expected to return to the rotation Monday, but enduring the longest IL stint of his career shortly before turning 38 is a reminder even a surefire Hall of Famer has fragility issues.

The short- and long-term future of deGrom — who said he planned to opt out of his contract this winter both before and after he injured his right scapula in late March — has become the most interesting part of the Mets’ season without the erstwhile ace throwing a pitch that counts. After a lengthy shutdown period shrouded in radio silence and an equally long and nearly as mysterious ramp-up to a rehab assignment, the Mets might be getting to the point where they can envision the two aces in the rotation for a dozen or so starts down the stretch before beginning the playoffs.

Of course, a lot can go wrong between now and then for deGrom, who hasn’t pitched in a regular season game at any level since last July 7 (that’s 51 weeks ago today). And even if Scherzer and deGrom are healthy in August and September, will an optimal 1-2 combination be enough to hold off the Braves, whose surprise World Series-winning run without several key contributors infused them with a championship pedigree that was on display throughout July? Even after a first half that’s gone as well as the Mets could have expected, the second half promises to offer some unsettling uncertainty.