There is a narrative going around about the first-place Mets, and it goes something like this...
The Mets are an underwhelming division leader, eminently vulnerable, and have given the rest of the NL East a chance by squandering their opportunity to have a bigger lead.
While it's fair to note that the Mets' offense has underwhelmed at times this season, arguing that they should have a bigger division lead at this point is kind of hilarious.
When taking into account the amount of injuries the Mets have dealt with this season (the most in the majors and the most in the history of the team) and the outrageous schedule they've had (the most doubleheaders before the All-Star break for any team since the 1978 Toronto Blue Jays), the fact that the Mets are in first place at all right now is a testament to their fight and something the rest of the division should be kicking themselves over.
Now, the above does not mean the remainder of the season will be smooth sailing for the Mets. And it doesn't mean the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Nationals have no chance to overtake them.
But the Mets -- almost fully healthy offense-wise for the first time since April and likely getting Carlos Carrasco and Jacob deGrom back sooner rather than later -- should be viewed as strong frontrunners to win the NL East.
As New York tries to navigate the remaining 69 games of their regular season schedule, here are the challenges facing them...
The starting pitching situation
The operative word above in the part about Carrasco and deGrom is "likely."
While the Mets are expected to get Carrasco back either this Sunday or at some point next week, and while deGrom is progressing toward a return from a forearm issue the team does not believe to be serious, they cannot be relied on until they return, stay on the mound, and excel.
The same can be said for Noah Syndergaard, who is working his way back and could make his season debut around Sept. 1.
Those three reliable pitchers could become five sooner rather than later, but the Mets need to swing a trade for a starting pitcher between now and the July 30 non-waiver deadline.
A daunting August stretch
The Mets' schedule the rest of the way should not be as challenging as it was earlier this season as they dealt with a brutal rash of injuries, 10 doubleheaders, and a disproportionate number of road games.
But the schedule will still be tough, especially when compared to easier schedules ahead for others in the division, including the Phillies.
New York's toughest challenge will likely come from Aug. 13 to Aug. 22, when they play 13 straight games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants (three at home, followed by seven on the road, followed by another three at home).
A glance at that portion of the schedule before the season wouldn't have seemed crazy, but the Giants have transformed from an expected non-contender to a team with the best record in baseball.
The Mets will also face a tough road trip toward the very end of the season, with two games against the Boston Red Sox and three games against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Awakening the offense at home
The Mets' offense has been better at home this season than on the road, especially when it comes to hitting for power.
New York has slugged .404 on the road this season compared to .359 at home, and has hit 37 homers at Citi Field (in 42 games) while clubbing 67 away from home (in 51 games).
Part of this is due to the fact that the Mets recently went on a scoring rampage during their recently-completed six-game road trip, and part of it is due to the fact that they have finally gotten almost fully healthy and haven't yet had a long, healthy stretch at home.
But even Mets players who have been healthy most of the season (such as Pete Alonso) have struggled to hit for power at Citi Field.
That needs to change in the second half, and the Mets will get their first chance to start mashing at Citi during an 11-game homestand that starts against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.