Everything falling into place for the Mets
One by one, the injured guys have returned to the Mets. And new talent has arrived, too, adding pop to a lineup that needed some. Changes here, changes there. Little by little, the Mets have been transformed.
Check them out now. The Mets are 18-6 in August, and they're seemingly sprinting toward their first playoff appearance in nine years. They're leading the Majors in runs this month (6.46 per game), and they have the rotation they hoped to have (fourth in the bigs with a 3.38 ERA and fourth with 694 strikeouts).
After beating Philadelphia, 9-5, in 13 innings on Thursday, the Mets return to Citi Field on Friday to begin a six-game homestand against the Red Sox and the Phillies again, riding a seven-game winning streak, an 8-1 road trip and a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League East.
The Mets have six more games remaining with the second-place Nationals, so there's still work to do. But they've played so well over such a long stretch of time (30-15 since July 4) and they have been so good against the rest of the NL East (34-17), that it's easy to believe in them.
Funny thing is, the Mets are now pretty much the team they were projected to be way back in Spring Training. Remember all that optimism? Everyone felt it, from the clubhouse to the manager's office to the executive suite.
Those original projections were based on a bunch of players -- first baseman Lucas Duda, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, center fielder Juan Lagares -- building on the progress they'd made in 2014.
It was based on David Wright having a healthy and productive season and on right fielder Curtis Granderson enjoying a reunion with his hitting coach, Kevin Long, who was hired by the Mets.
And perhaps most of all, the Mets' optimism was based on their belief that their rotation could be dominant. That meant Matt Harvey would have a smooth return from Tommy John surgery and that 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jacob deGrom would continue to pitch at a high level.
Both of those things have happened. Harvey is 11-7 with a 2.57 ERA. deGrom is 12-6 with a 2.29 ERA. They have 302 strikeouts in in 311 innings.
Those original projections were derailed by a long list of injuries. Now with the core hitters back, the Mets have had baseball's best offense. Since July 4, they've gone from 41-41 and 4 1/2 games behind the Nats to 71-56 and 6 1/2 in front.
They've benefited from Washington's problems, but the Mets did a nice job holding things together during their own tough times. There are easier things than keeping a team focused during a bad streak, but Mets manager Terry Collins did just that.
Help was a long time coming as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson declined to trade his best young starting pitchers, even when he could have upgraded the club in the short-term. Instead, he saw in Harvey, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz a core of arms on which the organization could ride for a few years.
To continue to hang around .500 during the worst of the injuries (115 games missed by Wright, 88 by d'Arnaud, 31 by Michael Cuddyer and 26 by Daniel Murphy) was a nice accomplishment. As Wright and the others got healthy, the Mets took on a different look.
And then Alderson acquired a middle-of-the-order presence in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers. Collins slotted him into the No. 2 spot in the batting order and watched the whole thing take off. d'Arnaud has four doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs in his past five games, and Cespedes has 15 RBIs in his past seven. Granderson has 14 extra-base hits in 22 August games.
Their game on Thursday was a continuation of what the Mets have been doing. After falling behind, 5-0, in Philadelphia, they fought back to tie it and win it in 13 innings.
The Mets aren't perfect. There are questions about the bullpen and the defense. But no other team is perfect, either. Besides that, everything else has fallen into place. Collins finally is getting the credit he deserves for being a first-rate manager, and Harvey may get that trip to the postseason that his arrival in 2012 promised.
There aren't many things as much fun as playoff baseball in New York. These Mets are edging closer and closer to finding out.