Mets look to translate strong play into late-season playoff push
The New York Mets limped into the All-Star break after three straight losses against the Washington Nationals and failed to inspire hope with a 20-23 record ever since. Trying to tap into last season’s trade deadline magic, they dealt minor league infielder Dilson Herrera and pitching prospect Max Wotell to the Cincinnati Reds for Jay Bruce. Manager Terry Collins immediately slotted him in the heart of the lineup with hopes of injecting life into the team, but the slugger has yet to match his first-half production. Add the ongoing injury concerns for the pitching staff to the mix, and the odds of a return to the postseason look slimmer each day.
The Mets dipped to under .500 for the first time since April 17 after a 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday. Knocking four runs in five innings off Madison Bumgarner was not enough, as the Giants ace retaliated with a two-run homer off of Jacob deGrom. The eight runs and 13 hits accounted for a career-worst outing for deGrom and a clear rock bottom for the team. A seemingly desperate move, the Mets activated Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera from the disabled list shortly after, jolting the team to take six of the next nine games.
As was the case in 2015, wholesale injuries have stymied any consistent production. Lucas Duda, David Wright, Juan Lagares and Matt Harvey are out for the season with a medley of ailments. In addition, second baseman Neil Walker’s chronic back pain and pitcher Steven Matz’s shoulder injury puts the rest of the season in jeopardy for both players. The team has shuffled a number of players back and forth between the minor leagues in hope of maintaining competitiveness, but it appears as if they are putting a Band-Aid on a leaky dam.
The Mets have shuffled playoff positions with the Miami Marlins for the past month, but they sent a message to their division rivals in their most recent series. Although neither pitcher had the cleanest outing, recent call-up Rafael Montero matched Marlins ace Jose Fernandez pitch for pitch, tossing five shutout innings. The scoring drought pursued until the 8th inning when relief pitcher Addison Reed allowed consecutive doubles to hand the Marlins a one-run lead. Jose Reyes responded with a double of his own, later proceeding to third on a long fly out to left and scampering across the plate after a wild pitch by A.J. Ramos. Cespedes broke the deadlock in the bottom of the 10th with a no-doubt walk-off home run to seal the win.
“The Amazins” kept their bats hot the following night, winning 7-4 with the help of two Curtis Granderson home runs. His 21st and 22nd home runs of the year came after a 6th-inning pinch-hit appearance as Collins attempted to balance the playing time of his two right fielders. Cabrera continued his surprising resurgence with a first-inning homer off of Tom Koehler. Seth Lugo, called into action after Harvey’s season-ending surgery to his shoulder, provided a quality outing as he allowed only two runs and five hits over six innings. The victory pushed them ahead of the Marlins for second place in the division and just two and a half games out of a wild card spot. What looms ahead could put them in position to leapfrog the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
After they finish their home stand against the Marlins and the Nationals, the Mets are scheduled for a grueling nine-game road trip that takes them to Cincinnati, Atlanta and the nation’s capital. The Braves own the worst record in all of baseball and are on pace to lose over 100 games. Despite this, the Mets have won just seven out of 13 meetings versus their hated foes. It is hard to determine which factor played the largest role in the unexpected Braves’ downturn, but if they wish to contend for another pennant, the Mets should not underestimate any team from here on out.
Comparing records, numerous statistics and past performances, the Mets have a good chance of capturing the elusive wild card bid, if not the entire division. However, a history of catastrophic collapses and disappointment can embed itself into the team’s psyche, as is ever true with the Mets. A long list of late-season derailments continue to loom over the team—October 2006, when Carlos Beltran stared at an Adam Wainwright curveball to end the National League Championship Series, September 2007 and 2008, when they squandered large division leads in the final month of the season to miss the playoffs and October 2015, when defensive errors and cold bats cost them a competitive World Series. It is not just the stench of the eight of the last nine years they have to overcome, it is 52 of the last 54 years.
Fans were surprised the Mets advanced as far as they did last season, but expected a stretch of upper echelon performance to continue for the coming year. With the chips stacked against them, the Mets still hold on to the possibility of repeating their late-season heroics once again, this time bringing the pennant home to Citi Field.