The Mets are about to embark on a 13-game stretch (during which they have one off-day) that could play a significant role in how things play out the rest of this season.
So far this year, the Mets have split their six games against the Nationals. In the next two weeks, they will play 10 games against their other top competition in the NL East, the Phillies and Braves, both of whom are tied with the Mets at 7-4 atop the division.
This will be the first this season the Mets will play either of these teams.
How can any two-week stretch in April be important?
Mickey Callaway's squad has played just 11 games. However, at the end of the above stretch, it'll be April 24 with no NL East team on their schedule for another two weeks.
In a vacuum, and for most teams, it's hyperbolic to say a 13-game stretch in April is uniquely important. But, it is when you're the Mets, with a young team, bold expectations and a drama-hungry, headline-grabbing media waiting to pounce on failure.
Thankfully, with the Mets being 7-4, they've created a decent launching point for a successful season. Fans are positive and pumped up while the local media is aiming to draw blood on the Yankees, who are just 5-7 and riddled with injuries.
However, if the Mets stumble the next two weeks, the hounds will almost certainly come hunting for second-year manager Mickey Callaway, who was hired by former GM Sandy Alderson -- not current GM Brodie Wagenen.
Along those same lines, if pitching is a reason the Mets stumble and they did not sign current free-agent Dallas Keuchel, payroll will again become a punching bag and the general tone around the team will turn sour.
This down note inevitably brings negative questions from reporters to coaches and players, most of whom see toxic headlines and hear angry fans on the radio and at the ballpark, at which point the walls around the team get closer and closer.
The point is, in this town, it's not hyperbolic to say these next two weeks do matter.
Who must be stopped...
In terms of scoring runs this season, the Braves, Mets and Phillies have all driven in between 60-70 runners. The three teams have also performed similarly in getting on base, being in scoring position and collecting extra-base hits.
Therefore, as is often the case, the big difference in these series will likely be how each team contains the other team's top performers who, currently, are as follows...
Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who has hit in nine of the team's 11 games this season. He has knocked more than half of his season-total 15 RBI during the past three games.
Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, who - similar to Swanson - has hit in all but one of his team's games this season. Freeman has just one home run, but he is batting .400 with a .520 OBP.
Braves LHP Sean Newcomb, who will pitch Saturday against Jason Vargas. Newcomb has allowed just two runs during his 11 innings pitched this season. Meanwhile, Vargas has allowed six runs in 12 innings.
Phillies RHP Jake Arietta, who is on schedule to start against the Mets when the two teams meet up next week in Philadelphia. Arrieta, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA and looking like he did with the Cubs before joining the Phillies.
What needs to happen...
I still believe after 162 games, the final NL East standings will look similar to what they are entering play today...
The goal at the end of this run - and to avoid leaning in to the crosshairs - should be to at least win six of these 10 games. This would mean being 14-10 -- even if it's losing two of three to Cardinals, who the Mets play in the middle of tackling their NL East rivals. Flip that and the Mets finish this stretch - at home, in front of fans and local media - at 12-12, at which point every article and fan fear will revolve around the potential of dipping below .500, despite starting the year 5-1.
The point is, while it's early, narrative and perception has the potential to play a major role in how a season goes in New York, especially Citi Field. So, here's to keeping it basic, winning series and never looking back...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!