New York Mets a longshot but still alive


New York Mets 3B David Wright holds a bat with the Citi Field scoreboard in the background
Can David Wright lead the New York Mets to the playoffs in 2013? (John Munson/The Star-Ledger)

Coming out of the All-Star break, the New York Mets are on the outskirts of the National League playoff race. Though many think their season is virtually over, a few key factors make a postseason run seem less out of the question.

They’re not as far behind as you think. The NL East standings list the New York Mets at 11 games behind the Braves, but they’re actually only nine games back in the all-important loss column. Furthermore, they’re only eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card spot. This counter-intuitive differential results from the fact …

They have several games in hand over most teams. The New York Mets are one of only a few teams in Major League Baseball — and the only team in the NL Wild Card race — with 70 or more games left. With 71 games remaining, they have five games in hand over the Phillies, Rockies and Padres, and four in hand over the Reds and Nationals. If they continue to trend upward, this will give them a chance to win games that other teams can’t make up for.

Other teams are showing their cracks. The Braves have a striking-out problem, but we knew that. Now they have an injury problem, with both Uptons getting hurt before the break and young slugger Freddie Freeman battling a jammed thumb. Their pitching hasn’t been nearly as dominant as expected, and the Mets played them tight the last time they faced each other. Elsewhere in the NL East, the Phillies are showing further signs of aging, and Jonathan Papelbon has been increasingly fallible. The Nationals have been a disappointment all season, the Rockies and Cubs are treading water, and the Giants and Dodgers have plenty of their own deficiencies to address. Meanwhile …

The Mets appear to be solidifying. Whether or not this season pans out, the New York Mets are increasingly recognized as a team on the move. David Wright is having his most balanced season yet, and finally seems fully settled into his role as the team’s leader and spokesman. Marlon Byrd has given them what every good team needs: a solid, dependable, roleplaying veteran with good intangibles and leadership ability. Bobby Parnell is a young, emerging closer who looks like a future centerpiece, and the top of their lineup is once again dynamic with the addition of Eric Young, Jr. Their defense is finally solid, and they’re learning the kind of offensive approach that will maximize the productivity of a team that doesn’t have much power. If Lucas Duda can come back healthy, they will once again have a big bat in the middle of the lineup. And last but not least …

Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Mets’ starting rotation is really beginning to fill out. Matt Harvey is one of the game’s biggest rising stars, and Zack Wheeler‘s stuff is just about as good. Jeremy Hefner is putting it all together, and even if he isn’t as good as his recent month implies, he’s more than most teams have as a third or fourth starter. If Dillon Gee continues to show good stuff, then the return of Jonathon Niese will give the New York Mets one of the best top-to-bottom rotations in baseball. They reside in a pitcher’s park, their bullpen has been solid, and they have a much improved defense, all of which bodes well not only for the second half but for a best-of-five or best-of-seven. And in a one-game wild card playoff, how many guys would you rather have pitching for you than Matt Harvey? The Mets wouldn’t be the first offensively challenged team to make a postseason run, and timely hitting combined with a strong staff and a good closer could make them very dangerous indeed.

The next two weeks will be important. The New York Mets need to start hot right out of the break. They begin with a seven-game homestand against the Phillies and Braves, then they play seven games in six days in Washington and Miami. If they start strong, they can make up ground within the division and their games in hand will be more meaningful. By the time the July 31 trade deadline comes around, the New York Mets will know whether they’re still in the race. Ya Gotta Believe!


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