NEW YORK -- Jon Niese considered it a moment, thinking back over his seven big league seasons. The longest-tenured member of the Mets' starting rotation, Niese has pitched alongside Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey and, briefly, even Pedro Martinez. He has experienced success firsthand and been a part of it.
But right now, Niese said, "We're pitching the best I've seen."
The Mets have transformed into one of the surprise teams in baseball thanks mostly to their starting rotation, whose 3.46 ERA through 25 games ranks sixth in the league. Statistically speaking, Mets starters are outperforming the 2013 group that featured Harvey's All-Star run. They are pitching better than the '12 Mets that rode Dickey to a National League Cy Young Award, and they are one-upping every Mets rotation from 2007-10 -- most of them by significant margins.
Go back further and comparisons grow fuzzy, considering Major League Baseball's supercharged offensive numbers throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. What's clear is that the Mets, through roughly one month of the regular season, could be looking at one of the best starting rotations in recent franchise history -- even without Harvey contributing, and with top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero still in the Minors.
"Obviously, they've been really, really good all year so far," catcher Anthony Recker said. "We've got guys that have tremendous stuff. We've got guys that have tremendous experience. We've got guys with tremendous ability on the mound, mentally tough. So we have a mix of guys that they can really do it all."
At least part of the Mets' early success, Recker said, takes roots in their diversity. No two Mets starters are alike.
There is Niese, the lone left-hander, whose signature pitch is his overhand curveball. There is 40-year-old veteran Bartolo Colon, who relies almost exclusively on an array of well-spotted fastballs. There is Dillon Gee, a relatively soft thrower whose best pitch is a changeup. There is Zack Wheeler, the hardest-throwing member of the staff and the closest thing the Mets have to a modern-day fastball-slider guy. And there is Jenrry Mejia, whose best weapon has always been the natural cut on his four-seamer.
Other than Wheeler and Mejia, who are somewhat similar in their arsenals, no two Mets pitchers attack opponents the same. That's difficult to find in a five-man rotation.
Recker, whose job is to study pitchers, used the Marlins as a counterexample. Miami features a quartet of right-handers who rely most heavily on low- to mid-90s fastballs and mid-80s sliders, making them easier to prepare for as a group. Teams can't do the same with the Mets.
David Wright, whose Mets tenure dates back longer than anyone's, believes the rotation also owes at least some success to the fact that four of its members are homegrown. Mets starters have spoken often this season about their friendly competition, their desire to one-up each other week by week. Many teams are like that, but the homegrown Mets have been doing it as a unit for years.
"I think there's a little something extra when you're with a lot of the same faces that you came up in the system with," Wright said. "You want to let the organization know that they made the right choice."
Mostly, though, the Mets are just flat-out succeeding. Colon is a former Cy Young winner who won 18 games and led the league in shutouts last year. Wheeler is one year removed from his status as one of the top prospects in baseball. Niese and Gee have been above-average starters for years now, while Mejia has always oozed potential.
The result has been a group with a 3.46 ERA. Take out Colon's one bad start in Anaheim, in which he allowed nine runs in five innings, and that mark drops to 3.04. Remove Mejia's meltdown against the Marlins on Saturday and it plummets even further, to 2.79 in 23 games.
Because the Mets don't have an obvious ace with Harvey on the disabled list, their rotation does not receive the same type of national acclaim as the Cardinals, Dodgers and other top groups in baseball. But where would the Mets be without this starting five? Their bullpen ranks in the bottom third of the league. Their offense is last or close to it in many offensive categories.
The Mets, in other words, are playing winning baseball because their rotation keeps on ticking.
"We're not exactly ripping the cover off the ball," Wright said. "We're getting some big hits when we need them, but we feel pretty confident that if we put a couple crooked numbers up that we're going to get the win, especially with the way these guys are throwing.
"I said it in Spring Training -- that we were going to have to lean on our starting pitching, and they haven't disappointed, that's for sure. We are where we are right now because of them."