NEW YORK -- All told, the Mets (100-61) spent 175 days of this season in first place, which is to say nearly every day but the one that matters most.
Despite controlling the National League East nearly wire to wire -- key word: nearly -- the Mets will finish in second and settle for the NL’s No. 4 seed. Their consolation prize is a Wild Card Series against the Padres at Citi Field on Friday, Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday, which shouldn’t be mistaken as a mere party favor. The Mets’ World Series hopes remain very much alive, even if their path to the pennant has grown thornier.
Though the Mets’ official elimination from division title contention occurred at 9:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday, their effective elimination happened last weekend, when the Braves swept them in a crucial three-game series in Atlanta. All the Braves needed to do from there was apply the finishing touches, which they did with a win over the Marlins in Miami that rendered New York’s doubleheader sweep of the Nationals moot. (The Mets won their games, 4-2 and 8-0, behind Brandon Nimmo’s big day and three consecutive homers to open the nightcap.)
“It’s like I told them when we left Atlanta,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Everything’s still there for them.”
Games remaining: 1
Standings update: Second place, 1 game behind the Braves
Playoff situation: Locked into the No. 4 seed, will host Padres on Friday
With one day left in the regular season, the Mets’ priorities have shifted to resting their regulars and lining up their pitching for the Wild Card Series. That process began in the middle innings Tuesday, when Showalter subbed out four of his stars mere minutes after the Braves clinched. One of the substitutes, Francisco Álvarez, responded with his first career hit -- a 439-foot home run to the second deck in left-center field.
On Wednesday, the Mets will conclude the regular season with a bullpen game that will be meaningless in the standings, save for the fact that a win would give them the second-most victories in franchise history. This is the fourth version of the Mets to win 100 games, following in the footsteps of the 1969 team (100-62), ‘86 (108-54) and ‘88 (100-60).
“A hundred wins is nothing to turn your nose up to,” said Nimmo, who went 6-for-8 with two homers and six RBIs in the doubleheader sweep. “It’s only been done four times here, and two of those teams are World Series champions. It’s a good thing to win 100 games here. So we’re very, very proud of that, and we should be. But yeah, there’s definitely some disappointment in finally being knocked out of the division race.”
The Mets had already been prepping for such disappointment since Sunday, when their three straight losses to the Braves made them heavy underdogs to win the NL East. Showalter even admitted that “we knew it was a long shot,” which explains his quick action once Atlanta finally eliminated them.
What’s important, Showalter said, is for the Mets to understand they are still very much World Series contenders, even though their road through October is now more difficult. It will begin on Friday with a talented Padres team that features superstars Manny Machado and Juan Soto, as well as a dynamic rotation trio of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. If the Mets survive that, their reward will be a trip to Los Angeles for the NL Division Series to face the rested 110-win Dodgers, one of the top regular-season teams in MLB history. Successfully navigating that could pit the Mets against the defending-champion Braves or the always-dangerous Cardinals in the NL Championship Series for a shot at the pennant.
Despite their disappointments, despite the road ahead, the Mets remain confident, which is what 100 wins will do to a team. They’re prepared to discard the residue of late September and strike a different tone as October rolls on.
“We had an unbelievable year,” infielder Jeff McNeil said. “One hundred wins is not easy to do. A lot of times, 100 wins will pretty easily win the division. So having to run into the Braves this year, they played great baseball. Besides that first month, they played fantastic baseball. You’ve kind of got to give it to them. But at the same time, 100 wins is exciting.”