After a surge of optimism in Queens, the Mets have hit a rough patch, losing four of five games to playoff caliber teams. I’m not a fan of ‘have to’ or ‘need to’ proclamations, not to mention the way that ‘must win’ is thrown around from game to game when not even close to true. However, the Mets are on the verge of a stretch against sub .500 teams that will provide them with a great opportunity to increase their division lead over the Washington Nationals before the two square off again.
Despite the 1-4 record over the last five, the Mets have gone 11-6 in August, while the Nats have posted a 6-12 record. A pessimist sees a lost opportunity to stretch the lead in the last five games, while an optimist breathes a sigh of relief because the Mets still have a 3.5 game lead. The Nats have performed well below expectations all year, but still have the talent to right the ship the rest of the way. The Mets need to hit the gas and put some distance between them while they have the chance. Can they do it?
Three Reasons for optimism:
- David Wright is on the verge of returning to the Mets. It’s too early to know what to expect from him, but his presence will undoubtedly give the team a shot in the arm. Our Willis Reed is about to step onto the court. If he can play two of every three games, he can make a huge difference as part of the Mets revamped lineup.
- Backing up the Mets’ 11-6 August record is the fact that they’ve posted season-best marks this month for batting average, OPS and slugging. They’re on pace to have their best month hitting home runs and scoring runs. This is not the same offense that struggled to back up the vaunted rotation. It is a deeper and more dangerous lineup that still has upside.
- The schedule the next 16 games (leading up the next Nats series) is very favorable. The Mets face teams with a combined .414 winning percentage. The Mets are a combined 21-5 against these teams so far in 2015. The recipe for first place has been to take care of business against lesser teams, some of whom have since traded away key players for prospects.
Three Reasons for pessimism:
- The bullpen has tested Mets fans’ faith during the dog days. No Mets reliever has escaped scrutiny the last week or so as the Mets have squandered close games against the Bucs and the O’s. Sandy Alderson has already said we should not expect a waiver trade to bolster the bullpen, limiting our fallback options to minor league arms and rehabbing veterans. This group needs to get it together if we are going to have any shot.
- It’s been well documented that the Mets’ young starting pitchers face fast-approaching innings limits. This means the best pitchers the team has will be skipped and scaled back at the exact time when they’re needed most. This in turn will only put extra strain on a tattered bullpen. Not a good combination.
- It would be foolish to think the Nats are going away. Despite what has generally been a dismal season for them, they still have tons of talent. Their pitching is too good to go in the tank altogether and Bryce Harper is bound to heat up again. They’ve gotten nothing so far from Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth, but they’re still within striking distance. With a couple of wins in Colorado you can almost feel the Nats getting ready to make their run, and their own schedule the next two weeks is almost as bad as the Mets.
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As Mets fans we’ve learned to deal with adversity, and to brace ourselves for the worst. The Mets have holes and they have a sleeping giant in the rearview mirror that may be closer than it appears. The bullpen is being held together with duct tape and bubble gum, while Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard are preparing to be spectators. All of the elements are there for the perfect storm.
However, the most telling Mets stat for me is 7-6. Despite struggles against playoff hopefuls like the Pirates and Cubs, the Mets have stood toe to toe with their division rivals from Washington. The Mets are 7-6 against the Nats this year after going 4-15 against them in 2014. This despite the addition of Max Scherzer and a breakout year from Bryce Harper.
Entering the 2015 season most Mets fans would have been happy just to have their team playing meaningful September and October games. We’re getting our wish, but with the big prize now in sight it’s no longer enough. We want to deny Bryce Harper his ‘damn ring’.
The six head-to-head games remaining against the Nats are looming as a potential winner-take-all showdown. The Mets need to take care of business in the next 16 games starting this weekend in Colorado to set themselves up as the team to beat going into those games against the Nats. If they do, then why not this team, this town, this year?