by Paul West
What a difference a week can make.
Not long ago, the New York Mets were floundering, injury-riddled and offensively deprived. Every member of their Big Four pitching staff was battling inconsistency, arm discomfort or bone spurs; home runs accounted for nearly all of their scoring, as they were collectively horrendous with runners in scoring position; while they never showed signs of giving up, they sometimes seemed to struggle to raise their energy level. David Wright gamely smiled his way through clear discomfort, as he described the myriad complications related to the sort of neck surgery that derailed Bobby Parnell‘s career. Adding insult to injury, they suffered an embarrassing three-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals. Fans and pundits foreshadowed gloom and doom, wondering aloud if the Mets could even hang onto one of the Wild Card positions as the Nationals appeared poised to run away with the division.
Then the Chicago Cubs came to town, with the best record in baseball, having just scored 27 runs in its past three games.
It started when rookie Brandon Nimmo provided a much-needed spark, scoring from second on a throwing error as the Mets came back from a 3-0 deficit for a thrilling 4-3 win. Nimmo’s speed, hustle, and infectious enthusiasm seemed to snap the dugout out of its collective funk, and his ear-to-ear smile was mirrored throughout the clubhouse after the game. The following night, Nimmo launched his first big league home run, a 442-foot no-doubter that was one of five the Mets launched off of Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel. The Mets won 10-2, ensuring a series split and slowly regaining momentum. Jacob deGrom stuck it out through almost an hour’s worth of rain delays, spread out over three separate stoppages, to strike out seven Cubs in five innings. Ageless wonder Bartolo Colon out-dueled ace Jake Arrieta the next night, as the Mets scrapped their way to another 4-3 victory and continued to produce better at-bats; Travis d’Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes continued to heat up at the plate; and they completed a stunning series sweep against another ace, Jon Lester, with a 14-3 pummeling that included a six-hit, two-homer day by Wilmer Flores.
And as of this afternoon, the Mets have just completed a series win against the Miami Marlins, who are closely trailing them in the NL East standings. DeGrom battled through withering heat and threw 117 pitches, wriggling his way out of trouble with runners on base…and Flores continued his hot streak with two more home runs. Jose Reyes, back at shortstop in his second game with the team, hit the ball hard and pulled a pair of doubles down the left field line. And though the suddenly warming Giancarlo Stanton hit two more home runs, including a cartoonish shot for the Marlins’ first run of the day, he struck out against closer Jeurys Familia to start off the ninth inning.
The Mets are taking extra bases, they continue to be solid on defense, they’re prolonging at bats instead of chasing the fences with playground hacks, and the speed and enthusiasm of Nimmo and Reyes has helped energize a team that, contrary to the opinions of many, seems never to have stopped believing in itself. Meanwhile, the Nationals have been visited by the injury bug, and are suddenly looking as vulnerable as they were when they lost seven games in a row in late June. They come into town this weekend, to close things out before the All Star break; the Mets are in a position to assume control of their destiny, and divisional momentum, in a way reminiscent of last year.
Don’t look now, but the Mets aren’t dead yet.