As this was being written, the New York Mets put an exclamation point on their four-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 11-1 win, moving within two games of the second National League wild card spot. Though it will not be easy, the Mets are in a prime spot to make the 2019 postseason with just 16 games left to play.
If you had asked me a week ago if I thought the Mets would take the second wild card, I would have laughed in your face and said, “Maybe next year.” But now? The Mets are right back in the thick of things and have a major challenge ahead with the Los Angeles Dodgers coming to town this weekend. Lucky for the Mets, they are a much better home team (42-29) than they are away from Citi Field (34-41) and will play 10 of their remaining 16 contests at home.
The Dodgers, who just clinched a division title, have had the Mets’ number so far this season, winning three of four games when the Mets made the west coast trip back in May. Now, with the season on the line, the Mets will face the top of the Dodgers’ rotation in Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler. While the former Cy Young winner (Kershaw) and former Cy Young front-runner (Ryu) are imposing figures, they have been very hittable, especially of late. Kershaw and Ryu have combined for a 2-6 record over the last month while posting ERAs of 4.34 and 9.95 (!!) respectively. Though Buehler has been a constant in the rotation over that span, the Dodgers will still have to face a rotation with the best ERA (3.08) since the all-star break.
Jacob deGrom has returned to his Cy Young form, tallying two wins with a 2.83 ERA in his five starts this past month. Steven Matz, the most underrated starter of the staff has been nothing short of impressive, posting three wins and a sub-two ERA while Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler dipped a bit from their stellar starts to the second half. Oh, and the bullpen (minus Edwin Diaz) has stepped up big time of late.
Seth Lugo, the former starter, turned reliever, has proven to be one of the top relievers in all of baseball. With a 1.93 ERA in the second half, Lugo has all but officially become the team’s closer in light of Diaz’s unfortunate struggles, converting five of six save opportunities over the same span. Even more recently, in the last week or so, Justin Wilson has emerged as a viable late-inning option. His 1.59 ERA over the last month caught the eye of manager Mickey Callaway, who opted to leave the left-hander in a 3-2 game instead of bringing in Diaz Tuesday night. The move proved dividends as Wilson secured the four-out save and earned the trust of his teammates and coaching staff going down the stretch.
Sure, pitching can only go so far, but the Mets’ bats have been far from quiet. In the series sweep over Arizona, the team outscored the Diamondbacks 26-4, posting a club record for the most home runs in a home game (6), that included Juan Lagares’ first career grand slam and first career multi-home run game. While guys like Pete Alonso and Jeff McHits, I mean McNeil, have been the most consistent bats in Queens this season (J.D. Davis is also in that conversation), some veterans have stepped up to balance out the lineup. Wilson Ramos went on an improbable 26-game hitting streak, propelling his season average to .295 while Robinson Cano is showing flashes of his former self. The veteran second baseman is batting .333 with a .953 OPS since returning earlier-than-expected from a torn quad. (Side note: Amed Rosario has been one of the league’s top hitters since the all-star break .327/.361/.442).
So you’re probably saying “so what?” to the list of stats I just discussed. And sure, stats can only say so much when there are still two teams preventing the Mets from that coveted second wild card spot: The Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers are red hot with a seven-game winning streak after sweeping the Marlins and are heading into a series with division rival St. Louis Cardinals. After that, their schedule is relatively easy with remaining series against the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies and seven of the 13 games at home.
The Cubs, on the other hand, recently got bumped from their wild card spot due, in part, to losing three games in a four-game set with the Brewers last week. While they’re currently playing the fourth game in a series against the Padres, they’ve already lost two games. Once they leave the West Coast, they play nothing but divisional rivals the rest of the way in series against the Pirates, Reds and two series against the Cardinals. The Cubs, one of the worst road teams this season, will play six of their remaining 16 games on the road.
After the Mets wrap up things with the Dodgers, they’ll hit the road for a series against the Rockies before a series in Cincinnati. After that, it’s seven games at home against the Marlins and Braves.
The road ahead of arguably the most inconsistent team in baseball is not an easy one, but it’s doable. The pitching has always been there, the bullpen has improved greatly in recent weeks and the bats are in the right spot at the right time. From here, we can only sit and watch. Will they implode like in years past? Like the way they did on Sunday Night Baseball against the Phillies a couple weeks ago? It’s not out of the question, but for us Mets fans, ya gotta believe.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org