NEW YORK -- Earlier this week, Mets general manager Zack Scott referred to New York’s recent stretch as “treading water,” which seems as apt a metaphor as any. After splitting a doubleheader with the Brewers on Wednesday, the Mets found themselves the same seven games over .500 that they were back on June 11.
Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader followed a familiar formula. The Mets dropped Game 2 to the Brewers, 5-0, after winning Game 1, 4-3, in dramatic, walk-off, extra-inning fashion. It was enough for New York to maintain its more than eight-weeks-long grip on first place in the NL East -- a perch it’s held since May 8. But it was not enough to extend the division lead. Over the past six weeks, the Mets have never held a lead bigger than five games nor smaller than three.
“You can’t go too far ahead and say, ‘OK, you’ve got to win the next four,’ or, ‘OK, you’ve got to win the next five,’” manager Luis Rojas said. “I feel the approach we’re taking is the right approach.”
Perhaps with that mindset, the Mets are about to go on an extended run. Their lineup is not only nearly whole, but also starting to prove why that matters.
Second baseman Jeff McNeil, who had been slumping since his return from the injured list, hit a walk-off, two-run single in Game 1 for by far his most significant contribution this month. Brandon Nimmo is hitting .364 since his own rehab assignment ended. And Michael Conforto has too long a track record of success to slump indefinitely.
What’s more, the Mets now face one of their easiest stretches of the schedule, with seven straight games upcoming against the last-place Pirates.
“We know we’re an extremely good team,” McNeil said, “and we can beat anyone.”
Any examination of the Mets must begin with the team itself: a preseason division favorite that has maintained that standing despite first-half injuries to nearly every significant member of the roster. New York’s record stands at 45-38, which is an 88-win pace.
But the Mets harbor reasonable expectations that they can be better in the second half because several position players have returned from injury; starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco is due back later this month, and the team figures to add additional help prior to the July 30 Trade Deadline. The days of relying on last-minute fixes such as recent waiver claim Robert Stock, who allowed two runs over four innings to take the Game 2 loss, could be coming to a close.
There’s also a chance the Mets might not need to be much better, considering no other NL East team has distinguished itself. Not the Braves, who are playing without Mike Soroka, Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud and others; nor the Nationals, whose recent hot streak preceded an equally cold one; nor the Phillies, who have hovered around -- and mostly below -- .500 all season.
The division has been so accommodating that the Mets have gone 10-13 over their past 23 games and lost just half a game in the standings.
They’ll gladly take it, with an eye toward better days to come.
“We’ve gone through a tough stretch here with the number of games that we’ve played,” Scott said. “We’ll hopefully finish strong on this homestand going into the All-Star break, and that’s a chance to regroup. I can’t deny that we haven’t been playing our best baseball consistently, but it’s not due to a lack of effort. Our guys are working hard toward it.”