NEW YORK -- Over the past two weeks, the Mets have proven their mettle against a third-place team and two fifth-place clubs, winning 13 of their last 14 games to rocket back into the National League postseason race. That’s no criticism; the Mets have played the schedule as presented to them and thrived, achieving their best run since winning 16 of 17 in 1990.
After throttling the Marlins on Wednesday, 7-2, behind four home runs and a strong Steven Matz start, the Mets capped a four-game series sweep at Citi Field with their sixth consecutive victory. Now comes the hard part. Just a half-game back of the second NL Wild Card spot, the Mets are scheduled to host the second-place Nationals for three games this weekend. Three more loom next week in Atlanta against the division-leading Braves. And things don’t grow much easier from there.
If the Mets want to make the postseason, first baseman Pete Alonso said, they will need to “slay the giants.”
“We’ve got a chance to do something really great,” Alonso added, noting that the NL East title, not a Wild Card berth, is his goal. “If we keep rolling the way we are … we’ve got a really awesome chance to do something really special, and make a hell of a run toward the end.”
Whether the Mets can do it remains up for debate. Consider the factors:
Pro: The rotation is elite
Con: There’s still no safety net
“Everybody’s just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing as individuals and as a team,” Matz said.
If issues exist, they’re below the surface for now. Because the Mets traded away Jason Vargas, who could have proven valuable in a swingman role, their rotation depth options consist mostly of rookie Walker Lockett (7.79 ERA) and veteran Ervin Santana (8.53 big league ERA the past two seasons). For the Mets, avoiding a rotation injury will be critical.
Pro: The bullpen is much better, too
Con: Diaz is still an issue
Thanks in large part to the rotation’s success, New York’s relievers are also thriving. Before the All-Star break, the Mets’ bullpen ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA. Since that time, it ranks second.
Credit Seth Lugo, who has not allowed a run since June, for much of that turnaround. Credit also Justin Wilson, who struck out Jon Berti with the tying runs on base in the seventh inning Wednesday to preserve a two-run lead. Even Jeurys Familia has been better in August, with one run allowed in five appearances.
As for Edwin Díaz, the closer clearly lost a bit of manager Mickey Callaway’s trust by allowing five runs over his last five games. Although Callaway has held firm that Diaz “is going to be our closer and has been our closer,” he used Lugo for a two-inning save Monday. It’s a situation to monitor, but the bottom line is this: The Mets will struggle to meet their goals without heavy contributions from Diaz.
Pro: The top half of the lineup is thriving
Con: The bottom half, not so much
Jeff McNeil and Alonso are both hot again. The former has regained sole possession of the Major League batting lead, while the latter has gone deep in three consecutive games to move within two home runs of Cody Bellinger’s NL rookie record (39). Also thriving are Michael Conforto, whose two homers Wednesday gave him a team-high nine in the second half; Amed Rosario, who owns a .350 batting average since June 29; and J.D. Davis, who owns the highest OPS in Citi Field history.
“Our approaches are really there right now,” Conforto said. “We’re stacking good at-bats on top of each other. We’re really rallying around each other.”
Lower down, though, the Mets have struggled. The Nos. 6-8 spots in their lineup went a combined 4-for-42 in the four-game sweep of the Marlins, due in large part to a 2-for-32 line from Adeiny Hechavarria, Luis Guillorme, Juan Lagares and Aaron Altherr. Barring a roster move (Joe Panik, anyone?), one of those four is going to play every day in the absence of injured second baseman Robinson Canó. The Mets need more production from that bunch.
Pro: The Mets have beaten the teams they should
Con: They’ve yet to prove they can consistently beat the best
Since the All-Star break, the Mets have gone 19-6 to post the Majors’ top record. Six of those wins have come against the Marlins, the NL’s worst team. Ten others have come against the sub-.500 Pirates, Padres and White Sox. Beating up on underperforming clubs certainly isn’t a bad thing -- it’s pretty much mandatory for those with designs on making the playoffs. The problem is the Mets haven’t shown they can thrive against more elite competition.
Versus the first-place Cubs, Dodgers and Braves, the Mets are 7-11. Against the Phillies and Nationals, the Mets are 12-14. With 27 games to play against those five teams, the Mets simply can’t keep losing to them at that rate. They’ll miss the playoffs if they do.
So keep close watch on how the Mets perform beginning Friday, when they begin a stretch of six consecutive games against the Nationals and Braves. Those two series could prove prophetic.
“What we’ve done is not easy, but it’s in the past,” Callaway said. “If we keep on playing the way we’ve been playing, we’re going to continue to do good things.”