by Paul West
In roughly an hour, the New York Mets will begin a series against Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins, who currently sit a game and a half above them in the standings. Previous overreactions in all directions notwithstanding, make no mistake: this is the most urgent series of the season thus far.
The Washington Nationals are showing signs of fallibility yet again; Stephen Strasburg‘s unbeaten run was broken in stunning fashion by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who themselves are suddenly ravaged by the injury bug as they try to hang on to the top spot in the NL Wild Card race. The Nationals have threatened to run away with the division multiple times, only to fall back to earth, allowing the Marlins and Mets to hang around. The Mets, for their part, have had an up and down campaign that’s been marred by one significant injury after another; yet they’ve managed to stay within striking distance, thanks in no small part to their stellar relief pitching and the power surges of Yoenis Cespedes and the under-utilized Wilmer Flores.
Good news might be on the horizon for the Mets; Zach Wheeler is finally about to attempt more advanced pitching activities, while Lucas Duda seems closer to recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back. Jeurys Familia continues to pitch with confidence and resolve, even on days when he clearly doesn’t have his best stuff, and Travis d’Arnaud has begun to hit the ball hard enough that a return to the middle of the lineup should be imminent. But the Mets’ bread and butter continues to be their starting pitching, and as Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard continue to battle through arm discomfort, what once looked like a fantasy rotation now sometimes feels like a disaster waiting to happen. The Mets are reportedly not looking to make a big splash near the trade deadline, largely because they depleted their trade-bait resources to set up last year’s October run. So it looks like if they’re going to make a playoff push and defend their National League title, it will be mostly with the parts currently in place and returning.
The onus to set things off on the right foot will fall on an unlikely candidate: Logan Verrett, who’s picked up the slack for an ailing Big Four and mostly produced admirable spot-start efforts. In an interesting twist, the Mets might be fortunate to be facing a left-handed starter to kick off the series; the Marlins will be starting Adam Conley, which means Terry Collins will no excuse not to play the only Mets hitters who’ve been remotely warm of late. D’Arnaud, Lagares, Cespedes, and Juan Lagares are all in the lineup, and all four will be looking to spray line drives into the Marlins’ spacious outfield. Lagares’ presence in the lineup also ensures that the Mets’ outfield defense will be sufficient to help keep runs off the board.
The 2015 Mets faced numerous do-or-die situations, and came up big more often than not. Should they manage a series win in Miami this weekend, they will assume firmer control of their playoff destiny. The only thing that remains is to play the games.