After scrapping their way through perhaps the most damaging array of key injuries any team has faced this year, the New York Mets remain in the thick of things. In fact, they find themselves in a position many teams would find enviable. They’ve opened August winning two in a row against the Washington Nationals, who have bedeviled them for seemingly ages and now only lead them by a single game for the division lead. The Nationals singlehandedly kept the Mets out of the playoffs last year: the Mets were 4-15 against them, and had a winning record against every other NL East team as well as against all of baseball as a whole. The whammy is dead, it seems, and seemingly at a perfect time.
HELP HAS ARRIVED
The Mets, at the behest of their fans and countless analysts, made strong moves at the recent trade deadline. They traded for big-hitting Yoenis Cespedes, without sacrificing known quantities like Zack Wheeler or Rafael Montero. They also picked up Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, solid-hitting veterans with experience in pressure games. To buttress the bullpen, they brought in experienced closer Tyler Clippard, who was amid a strong year with the Oakand A’s.
The Mets are also getting healthy, headlined by everyday catcher and rising star Travis d’Arnaud‘s return to action. The resulting lineup protection has led to the booming resurgence of their primary slugger, Lucas Duda, who’s hit eight home runs this week and and whose production tends to pick up in the second half of the season.
THE BIG FOUR
All of the above is especially promising in light of what’s emerging as the best top-to-bottom rotation in the National League. In Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have three aces who can shut down any team any thime they take the mound. When Steven Matz returns to health, that number will rise to four. Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese at the tail end of a rotation is something a lot of teams would be happy with, as well.
POISED TO TAKE CONTROL?
By winning their past two games, the Mets have guaranteed at least a series win against the Nationals. But completing the sweep, in a nationally televised Sunday night game, would be an enormous strategic and emotional victory. It would confirm the demise of the Nationals’ hex. It would tie the two teams for the division lead, with many more head-to-head games left and the Mets fully on the rise. It would increase the frustration level of players like Bryce Harper, who was ejected in extra innings for arguing a third strike–just before Wilmer Flores’ walkoff home run won the first game of the series. It would, one might even argue, put the Mets in the driver’s seat in the NL East, even if only temporarily.
It must be noted that tonight’s game is by no means a must-win; applying undue pressure to a game in early August is a good way to ruin a team’s momentum. But if Thor’s hammer and the Mets’ newfangled lineup can complete the sweep tonight…the power of belief will not have been so strong among Mets fans since the Shea Stadium days.