In one sense, the Mets were disappointed to lose two of three to the Nationals this week. But they tried to view things through a more optimistic lens.
"We're going home in the Wild Card hunt," manager Terry Collins said after Wednesday's game. "Our fans should be excited. It's the last homestand, they should be excited to come out and see what happens in these 10 games. I don't care who we're playing, these are big games. This is a big time of year. We play pretty well at home and we're hoping we get our fans excited, and we hope they come out and back us up."
It's a fine bit of rhetoric, though it doesn't erase a number of questions facing the Mets in the second half of September and beyond. Time to answer some of them:
If Lucas Duda returns this season, what becomes of James Loney?
-- @RSQuackenbush via Twitter
As faithful readers of mets.com know, Duda's rehab from a stress fracture in his lower back is increasing in intensity. Once believed lost for the season, Duda has been taking live batting practice for days now. He has a real possibility to return before the end of the season, perhaps even in time to escape the Tim Tebow-fueled media crush that's about to descend on Port St. Lucie, Fla.
But there's a big difference between Duda returning and Duda returning as an everyday first baseman. More likely, Duda will become a potent left-handed bat off the bench, capable of hitting a home run in any spot. Stress fractures are major injuries, and Duda experienced multiple setbacks in his return from one. Even if he makes it back in excellent health, the Mets will be wary of plugging him in as their everyday guy.
As such, I suspect Loney will stick around, sopping up whatever playing time against right-handed pitchers Duda can't handle. Perhaps the better question is, if Duda is taking up a bench spot as a left-handed power bat, is there still room on an October roster for Michael Conforto? Speaking of whom …
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Where is Conforto? Should I be concerned about his well being?
-- @connelly_gerard via Twitter
Conforto is still here, politely putting his work in without much to show for it. But he hasn't received much playing time -- just a sporadic pinch-hit opportunity here and there -- which has made it difficult for him to produce.
There are some within the Mets organization who believe the team handled Conforto all wrong, not allowing him to work out his issues -- particularly against left-handers -- at the Major League level. Others wanted him to rake at Triple-A and earn his way back, as Duda and Travis d'Arnaud did in years past.
Me personally? I would have liked to have seen Conforto stick it out in the Majors, though that hardly matters at this point. He's not going to be a significant part of the Mets down the stretch -- Collins made that clear Wednesday in his postgame comments regarding Jay Bruce -- which leads me to believe he won't be a factor in October, either. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Conforto left off any potential playoff rosters.
But the Mets are going to be relying on Conforto in the very real event that Yoenis Cespedes opts out of his contract this offseason. This may be a lost season for Conforto, but it certainly doesn't have to be a lost career.
Video: NYM@CIN: Lugo on his early success, his curveball
Is there any sense on whether Seth Lugo and/or Robert Gsellman would make the postseason roster if Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz return to the rotation?
-- @BundersonCooper via Twitter
Let me start by saying that despite their progress, it seems unlikely both deGrom and Matz will be healthy enough to start games for the Mets in October. At this point, the team would consider that a bonus.
That being said, it would obviously result in a rotation of Noah Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Bartolo Colon, pushing out Lugo and Gsellman. Certainly Lugo has done enough to warrant a roster spot regardless, considering how effective he's been. Forget his 2.40 ERA; Lugo has held right-handed hitters to a .266 on-base percentage, which would be extremely valuable in the middle of games. His experience as a reliever puts him over the top.
Then there's Gsellman, who's pitched nearly as well. If you assume an eight-man bullpen featuring Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles, that leaves three spots for some combination of Gsellman, Jim Henderson, Josh Smoker and a host of others. The way they're pitching right now, I suspect Smoker and Gsellman would both have an edge.
What's the plan for d'Arnaud? It feels like his career is slipping away.
-- @LGM_2016 via Twitter
Certainly, d'Arnaud's season has not gone to plan. He spent a large chunk of it injured, and unlike last year, he did not hit upon his return. It's been enough for the Mets to hand many of his at-bats to Rene Rivera, a career backup despite his nice season.
I don't think the Mets are at the point yet where they're going to actively search for d'Arnaud's replacement this offseason -- he is, after all, just 12 months removed from a pretty strong run during their playoff push. But I do think the club will search aggressively for a solid veteran who can play behind d'Arnaud, challenge him and take over as the everyday starter if things continue to go south. With all due respect to Rivera, he's not that guy.
Video: PHI@NYM: d'Arnaud scores De Aza with a double
Collins gets a lot of criticism for game management and a lack thereof. How would you rank him with his colleagues in that regard?
-- @crackofbat via Twitter
Look, there's no question Collins makes his share of in-game mistakes. Twice this year, he directly admitted to them, blaming himself for his lack of a replay challenge last month in Detroit, then forgetting to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores last weekend in Atlanta.
Do other managers make these types of errors? Yes, sometimes. Does Cubs manager Joe Maddon? No, not often. Plays such as those can be infuriating for fans, and they look poor -- bad optics, as general manager Sandy Alderson would say -- for Collins. But in the overall scheme of a season, they are rarely as impactful as they seem. (Flores' play may have been the exception, mostly because of the injuries he suffered.)
Though all managers have flaws, Collins' tend to be most visible during games. His strengths? Communication with the media and players. Don't underestimate the importance of those things, either.
Will the Mets pursue Colon next year?
-- @diegopolanco16 via Twitter
They almost have to, don't they? If all goes according to plan, the Mets will enter Spring Training with a rotation of deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. But as the Mets saw firsthand this summer, things rarely go according to plan. Harvey and Matz will be coming off surgeries, while Wheeler will still be trying to make it back from a March 2015 Tommy John operation. The Mets do have two nice insurance policies in Lugo and Gsellman, but frankly, even seven starting pitchers is not enough.
Colon has said he plans to come back for one final season in 2017, and he's going to have interest in doing so with the Mets. As long as he's willing to come back in a swingman role that could have him spending significant time in the bullpen, the feeling should be mutual.
Colon was willing to do that a year ago; the only thing that's changed is his proximity to Juan Marichal on the all-time wins list. He would love to pass Marichal for the most wins among Dominican-born pitchers, but he isn't likely to do so out of the bullpen.
Still, Colon is comfortable in New York, makes his permanent home nearby in New Jersey, and he has forged real relationships here. The smart money would be on him returning.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.