The Mets’ whole world can change in this closing stretch
Journey back 33 games with me. Let’s call it a tour of perspective, a reminder of just how much can happen in a month-plus on a baseball schedule.
Thirty-three games ago, the Mets won for the only time in a four-game series in San Francisco that would prove to be among the most critical series in the majors this season. The Giants’ three victories were all in extra innings, giving them a greater sense of magic during a phase in which they lost only three times in 20 games. That convinced the front office to hold onto Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, in particular, severely altering what was expected to be available at the trade deadline.
Conversely, the three agonizing extra-inning losses — games in which Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz permitted just three runs in 20 innings — provided perhaps the strongest indicator this was just not the Mets’ season.
The Mets’ lone win in the series — on July 20, 33 games ago — came with Walker Lockett starting. Robinson Cano and Dominic Smith were still in the lineup, Edwin Diaz was still the closer. It nevertheless left the Mets just 45-53, the third-worst record in the NL. It was hopeless. They were going to trade Zack Wheeler in the next week and a half, perhaps Syndergaard too. They had a better chance of being relegated to the International League than obtaining Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays.
But 32 games later — and with 32 games left now in this Mets season — Stroman will start Tuesday night at Citi Field against the Cubs to launch a three-game series that on the vital scale for both teams resides between substantial and mammoth.
Even with a loss in the finale to the Giants, the Mets went 22-10 in their next 32 games, tied with the Astros for the best in the majors. If they go 22-10 again to close the season — and get to 89 victories — their chances of at least being the second wild card are significant.
The playoff race is congested enough that if the Mets and Brewers finish 22-10, the Phillies 22-11, the Cubs 20-12 and Cardinals 18-15, you would have a five-way tie at 89 wins that would include a three-way tie for the NL Central crown. For those who love late-season chaos — I just raised my hand if you are scoring at home — where do we sign up for this?
Mainly, this is a reminder that even after being swept by the Braves over the weekend — Atlanta being the 2019 Mets’ kryptonite — the season is not lost. Thirty-two games in the majors is not an eternity. It is a lot of games, though.
The race for at least the second NL wild card is one that no contender can gain a foothold upon, making it hard for teams to fall completely out of play. Thus, a positive surge changes the complexion of the race. Thirty-two games is more than enough for a positive surge.
After the games of July 20, FanGraphs gave the Mets a 5.9 percent chance to make the playoffs. It was 33.2 percent going into Monday. And these odds are sensitive. The Mets were projected to have a 51.4 percent chance before the Braves entered their lives again. So three games against a team ahead of them in the wild-card standings, the Cubs, are going to tilt the possibilities again, one way or the other.
The Mets did enough from late July until now to give themselves a shot. They control their destiny over the final 32 games. Their next six — three vs. the Cubs, three at the Phillies — are against the teams ahead of them for the second wild card when the weekend concluded. Both the Cubs and Phillies are beset by bullpen problems as much as the Mets are, arguably more so. The Cubs are more swing-and-miss and homer-dependent than the Mets are. The Phillies are more depth-deprived than the Mets are.
The Mets, even with the lost Braves weekend, are 37-24 at Citi Field and have the most home games left (20) of any NL team — and the Cubs are 14 games under .500 on the road, having won one series away from Wrigley Field since mid-May.
And the Mets close their schedule with six at Citi, three against the atrocious Marlins and three against the Braves, who while dominant against the Mets this year are likely to be merely setting themselves up for a Division Series and not pushing any of their main players.
Those six conclude the 32-game schedule now left for the Mets. As the previous 32 should emphasize, that is more than enough time to make this season special.
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