NEW YORK -- Each day after the Mets win again, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen pops his head into their clubhouse to congratulate them. Since the All-Star break, the Mets are playing the way Van Wagenen thought they could when he assembled this roster. The GM is pleased.
But the recent run of success is not making his job any easier. Even after finalizing a deal for Marcus Stroman on Sunday, Van Wagenen must decide if he will make another splashy move (Noah Syndergaard to the Padres?), a lesser deal (Zack Wheeler to the Braves?) or nothing at all as he looks to retool this franchise. The Mets’ 8-7 win over the Pirates at Citi Field improved their record to 10-5 since the All-Star break, providing evidence that they can compete. Yet their sluggish move up the standings offers a reality check that it may be too little, too late.
Thus, Van Wagenen must make a choice: trade off pieces with an eye toward 2020, or eschew that opportunity for a chance to see where this hot streak -- with Stroman in tow -- leads.
Inside the clubhouse walls, it’s not much of a choice.
“We’ve put ourselves in a better position to make a push at the end of the year,” outfielder Michael Conforto said. “We’re just going to focus on baseball and playing, and hopefully we get to keep most of the guys in here.”
It was Conforto who gave the Mets a lead they never relinquished on Sunday, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning to spark a six-run rally off Pirates starter Chris Archer. Todd Frazier, J.D. Davis and Amed Rosario also collected RBI hits in the first, while Jason Vargas -- another trade candidate -- held Pittsburgh to three runs in 5 2/3 innings. It was enough for the Mets to hang on in the ninth, winning despite a four-run Pirates rally against Tyler Bashlor and Edwin Díaz.
“I feel like we’re syncing things up,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Our bullpen is performing, we’re scoring some runs consistently. Our starters have been outstanding. That’s the recipe for wins, and we’ve been doing that right now, and we have to continue to do it. No matter what decisions are made, we just have to continue to plug along and play the best baseball we possibly can.”
As the Mets boarded their flight to Chicago after the game, players learned the news that Stroman would be coming to meet them. It was an exciting move, but not necessarily one that means the front office is all-in on competing for a pennant. Despite their recent hot streak, the Mets remain five games under .500, trailing a half-dozen teams in the NL Wild Card race. Even in winning 10 of 15 games since the All-Star break, they’ve gained only one game in the Wild Card standings -- the direct result of trailing so many different clubs.
“We’ll just keep going about our business until we hear otherwise,” Frazier said. “We win series, we’re going to have a good shot to get back in this playoff situation.”
To win 90 games, which would probably put them in or on the cusp of the postseason, the Mets would need to play .702 ball the rest of the way. To put that in perspective, they posted a .589 winning percentage during their historic run after the All-Star break in 2015, roaring from behind to win the NL East.
So consider a run this year unlikely, yet possible, pending other moves.
“We’re not going out there to show that this group should stay together,” Conforto said. “We’re going out there to win games. Maybe that’s a byproduct of it, but the main goal here is just to go out there and compete, and make that push at the end of the year.”