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Michael Conforto and Kevin Pillar celebrate seventh straight win in outfield

Michael Conforto and Kevin Pillar celebrate seventh straight win in outfield

With Matt Harvey on the mound, albeit as an opponent, there was a bit of a 2015 vibe at Citi Field on Wednesday. And in winning their seventh straight game, the Mets offered their fans reason to believe they could be headed for a big October again.

The surprise is in the way they’re winning, with pitching, defense, and depth making the case that this could be a better all-around team than the one that went to the World Series six years ago.

Put it this way: They’ve come a long way from some of those early-season lineups in 2015 that occasionally featured Eric Campbell and John Mayberry Jr. in the heart of the batting order, before trade deadline reinforcements changed everything that year.

The 2021 Mets still haven’t really busted out with the bats this season, certainly not with the type of power that was expected. But they’ve gotten on a roll because they’re playing well in all phases of the game.

In short, they’re finding ways to win in quite the opposite fashion they found ways to lose last year, when bad defense would cost them one day, bad baserunning the next, or bad starting pitching, bad bullpen, or an absence of clutch hitting.

Indeed, they were worse in 2020 than the sum of their talented parts, which made them a losing team and called for some level of change.

Now, despite their early struggles to hit in the clutch again, the Mets suddenly look more like a team that is playing to its talent level.

At worst, they’re not beating themselves and at best, well, Wednesday’s 7-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles was a game that showcased their new identity. They got to Harvey early for some runs and then played eye-opening defense, much of it by the Bench Mob — as the non-starters have nicknamed themselves — to help Taijuan Walker sail through seven innings.

At 18-13, these Mets have a long way to go to be compared to the 2015 NL champs, but there is no question this is the deepest team the Mets have had since they made trades that summer for the likes of Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Addison Reed, and Tyler Clippard, never mind Yoenis Cespedes.

For that, Sandy Alderson and, to some degree, acting GM Zack Scott deserve kudos. The offseason didn’t necessarily go exactly as planned, considering the Mets did have George Springer and then Trevor Bauer on their wish list. But from the start of the offseason, Alderson said he wanted to improve the depth and defense, and the difference so far in those areas is significant.

James McCann and Francisco Lindor provided obvious upgrades, but consider the fact that these Mets have gone on this seven-game winning streak without injured regulars J.D. Davis and Brandon Nimmo, as Kevin Pillar and Jonathan Villar have played vital roles both offensively and defensively.

Perhaps more remarkable is they’ve won these seven games with Jacob deGrom pitching only five of the 63 innings, as the bullpen has outperformed all expectations and Walker is pitching like the guy who was once touted as a potential ace before control problems and Tommy John surgery seemingly lowered his ceiling.

In allowing one run over seven innings against the Orioles, Walker lowered his ERA to 2.20 and so far looks like a bargain signing at two years for $20 million (plus a player option).

Maybe the Mets got a little lucky that the since-injured James Paxton chose the Mariners over them, wanting to return to Seattle. But at least at that point late in the offseason, they realized the need to spend for another starter, even if it meant digging a little deeper for a multi-year contract to Walker.

In any case, those offseason acquisitions have fueled this winning streak, never more so than Wednesday, as the Mets played one of their best defensive games in years.

There was Pillar climbing the wall in left-center to derail an early Orioles rally. There was Villar and then Jose Peraza, another offseason depth signing, making tough plays in the infield keep the outs coming.

Of course, let’s not overlook the Swoboda-like diving catch made by Michael Conforto, who is playing a Gold Glove-caliber right field this season. Conforto has always been sneaky-athletic, if you will, in refuting the early scouting reports about his defense, but he has raised his defensive game to an astonishing level in 2021.

All of which allowed Walker to attack hitters with confidence.

As he said, “I like to pitch to contact. We scored early and the defense was huge: it was easy for me to go out there and get quick outs.”

On the offensive side, Dom Smith had a big day with the bat, and perhaps if he gets hot the Mets’ bats will produce more consistently.

In truth, this probably isn’t exactly what Alderson imagined for the ’21 Mets. He has come to see the need for better defense, yes, but he still believes that offense, mostly in the form of on-base percentage and power bats, is vital to a winning formula, and he has to be a bit stunned that his team has hit only 22 home runs, the fewest per game of any team in the Majors except the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Surely that will have to change, yet on the other hand, it has to be comforting to the Mets’ brass to see this team can play winning baseball without much of a knockout punch so far.

It’s a new identity for the team in Queens and, at worst, it’s allowing the Mets to survive the types of injuries that killed them in years past. At best, presuming a return to good health for deGrom, it could add a dimension they need to go deep in October for the first time since Harvey was wearing orange and blue — not orange and black.

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