After losing three out of four to the Giants in San Francisco, the New York Mets had 16 games to make a last ditch effort to become relevant. The Mets did just that by winning 14 of those 16 games. Over that stretch, the Mets saw their record go from nine games under .500 to three games over. They also saw themselves go from seven games behind the second Wild Card and 14 games in the division to one game out of a Wild Card spot and eight games back in the division.
Now, we are about to find out if this Mets team is for real.
As easy as the Mets schedule was coming out of the All-Star Break, it is going to be that difficult for the next month. From August 9 to September 15, the Mets play 37 games with 34 of those games coming against teams with a record of .500 or better. When you consider this stretch includes games against the Nationals, Braves, Cubs, and Phillies, you see how the Mets have a real opportunity to face their direct competition and beat them.
As a team still chasing, you cannot ask for a better opportunity. For starters, the Mets are hosting the Nationals this weekend in a series which suddenly has the feels of the July 31 – August 2 series after the Mets obtained Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline. Depending on how this series goes, the Mets could find themselves either four games out and under .500 again, or they could pull themselves into a tie with the Nationals in the standings . . . just like they did in 2015.
One other point here is the Mets are not exactly out of the division race either. With this recent winning streak, they made up six games in the division. The Braves have not been playing as well of late with their being just two games over .500 since the All Star Break. It’s also noteworthy their key trade deadline acquisition, Shane Greene, blew a save and took the loss in his first two games as a Brave. As Mike Petriello of MLB.com points out this may Greene regressing after an unsustainable stretch in Detroit.
The Mets having six games against the Braves gives them a real opportunity to take the Mets chances of winning the division from fantasy to reality. Again, the Mets chances of winning either the Wild Card and the division will hinge on how they play against direct competition.
This is also the exact time the Mets want to face these teams. Since the All Star Break, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are the two best starters in the National League with Seth Lugo being the best reliever in all of baseball. Zack Wheeler has a 15.0 scoreless inning streak. Pete Alonso has homered in three straight, and Michael Conforto is red hot. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
While the Mets 37 game stretch is absolutely brutal, it should be noted that 22 of those games are at home where the Mets are 12 games over .500. Of note, the Mets 20 losses is the fewest home losses in the division with only the Yankees, Astros, Cubs, and Dodgers having fewer losses at home. Put another way, when the Mets are at home, they are as good a team in baseball. That is evidenced by their 113 home wRC+ and 3.76 home FIP being the second best in the National League.
The Mets also have three games at Nationals Park. The Mets have split the first six games with the Nationals there this year, and they are 9-6 at Nationals Park since Mickey Callaway took over as the Mets manager. The Mets are also 8-5 against the Nationals this year, and they are not going to have to face Max Scherzer this weekend and possibly not in the next series.
Another note here is three of the Mets 15 road games come against the Royals who have a -109 run differential and are 12 games under .500 at home. Another three come against the Phillies, and the Mets have historically played well at Citizen’s Bank Park. In fact, the Mets have an all-time 79-67 record there even if they are just 1-6 there this season.
The Mets having a losing record at Citizen’s Bank Park this year brings us to the bad news. The Mets are 28-40 (.412) against teams over .500. If they play that way against teams with a winning record now, they are going to be well out of the postseason picture. When focusing on the specific teams the Mets will face, their records against those teams so far this year does not paint a better picture:
- Braves 4-6
- Cubs 2-2
- Diamondbacks 1-2
- Dodgers 1-3
- Phillies 4-9
- Nationals 8-5
That’s a combined 20-27 (.425). If the Mets play to a similar record, even with a sweep of the Royals, that’s a 17-20 stretch. That puts the Mets at .500 and likely dead.
That all said, this Mets team is different. As noted, the pitching staff is pitching like the best in baseball, and that is before Marcus Stroman gets a turn in the rotation on regular rest. The defense has been much better with Amed Rosario turning the corner. In fact, Rosario has turned the corner completely, and he has finally broken out.
No matter how you look at it, the Mets schedule is an opportunity. If they play well, they can secure the division and possibly put the division in play. If they can stay alive, their reward is 10 straight games against sub .500 teams before the final weekend of the season.
Whether this schedule is a blessing or a curse will depend entirely on how the Mets play. With them going 14-2 over their last 16, they are playing baseball as well as they have all season, and on that front, this is exactly the right time to take on this challenge.
Let’s be honest. With nearly two months gone in the season, there is not a lot of reason to believe in the 2017 Mets. The team is five games under .500 and just 14-16 against their own division. Important players like Yoenis Cespedes, Jeurys Familia, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and David Wright have had extended stints on the disabled list. Presumably, Familia, Syndergaard, and Wright are done for the season. The team features two everyday players who are fighting to get and stay atop the Mendoza Line, and the entire pitching staff has underperformed. And despite all of these problems, and many more which have not been mentioned, there are very real reasons to be optimistic about the Mets as we head into the summer months:
1. The Starting Pitching Is Improving
In case, you haven’t noticed the Mets are no longer have the worst ERA in all of baseball. A huge reason for that is the starting pitching is not only improving, but they are also pitching deeper into games. That has started with the re-emergence of Jacob deGrom. Before last night’s debacle, in his last two starts, deGrom pitched 15.1 innings allowing just one earned run. He threw down the gauntlet, and the other starting pitchers have responded.
The Mets are now starting to put together quality starts with some regularity. Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman are coming off their best starts in over a month. Zack Wheeler continues to pregress well in his first season in over two years. Matz and Seth Lugo will soon join the rotation. As we have seen time and again, this team goes as its pitching goes, and the pitching is trending in the right direction.
2. The Bullpen Is Settling Down
With the starters failing to go deep into games and Familia essentially being a non-factor this season, the bullpen has struggled. The struggles stem from both overwork and trying to slot guys into different roles than had previously been anticipated. With the starters going deeper, the bullpen is starting to get some rest, and the bullpen is starting to look better.
Another factor is the emergence of Paul Sewald. A player the Mets were willing to risk losing in the Rule 5 Draft has now become the Mets most important reliever. He has been used for multiple innings and to nail down the eighth inning. He has shown his success in Vegas was no fluke pitching to a 2.21 ERA in 20.1 innings. His emergence has allowed Terry Collins to ease up on some of his other relievers.Salas has responded by lowering his ERA by almost two runs in the month of May, has not blown one lead, and he has not allowed an earned run in 11 of his last 14 appearances. A rejuvenated Salas is good for the Mets.
Another key factor is the composition of the bullpen. Rafael Montero is gone. Neil Ramirez is on his way out as well. He should be gone once Hansel Robles figures things out in Vegas and/or Gsellman is moved to the bullpen with the return of Matz and Lugo from the disabled list. Certainly, the composition of arms is going to be much better down there, and with the starters going deeper, they will be better rested.
3. Help Is On The Way
As noted, Matz and Lugo will soon rejoin the rotation. Behind them, we may also see Robles return to the majors prompting the Mets to send down one of the more ineffective arms in Ramirez and/or Josh Smoker. But it’s not just on the pitching side that the Mets will improve, it’s also on the offensive side.
According to various reports, Cespedes is about 7-1o days away. When he returns, the Mets will be adding an MVP caliber player to play alongside Michael Conforto in the outfield, who is having an MVP caliber season himself. Cespedes not only lengthens the lineup, but he also adds a right-handed power threat which the lineup is sorely lacking right now. While the offense isn’t the issue so far, a team that is fighting to not only get back to .500, but also to get back to the postseason needs to upgrade everywhere it can.
It’s more than Cespedes. At some point, the moving target that is the Super Two deadline is going to comfortably pass clearing yet another hurdle for the Mets to call-up Amed Rosario. If Rosario does get called-up, it would significantly improve the Mets infield defense, and it could also improve the lineup. Through his first 50 games, Rosario is hitting .354/.393/.519 with 13 doubles, three triples, five homers, and 37 RBI.
With all that, there is legitimate reason for hope the Mets will be a better team over the final four months of the season. That team could catch the Nationals in the standings especially when you consider the two teams have 13 games against one another remaining. That is enough games to make-up the 9.5 game gap between the teams in the standings. That goes double when you consider the Nationals have bullpen issues of their own, and they are just 15-12 since losing Adam Eaton for the season.
If the Mets play as well as they can play, this is going to be an exciting summer at Citi Field. If the Mets play the way they are capable, this will soon become a pennant race.