by Paul West
For most of July, things looked increasingly bleak for the New York Mets. They racked up injuries to key players, while seemingly finding new ways to lose every night. They were historically bad with runners in scoring position, while Michael Conforto, once deemed a sure thing, looked worse and worse at the plate. When they finally did string some runs together, Logan Verrett had his worst outing of the season, burying them early against the San Diego Padres. Then Jeurys Familia gave up a home run, and Mets fans felt all out of things on which they could depend. They actually fell below .500, and Panic City was in full-blown stress mode.
Then Jose Reyes returned to the lineup, and began manufacturing runs almost singlehandedly. Wilmer Flores, fortunate enough to get some well-deserved playing time, played folk hero ago again. For the first time in seemingly forever, the Mets won consecutive games. Incredibly, they sit a mere 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot…and the window remains wide open for a Mets playoff push. Here are five reasons why.
5. Jeurys Familia
Yes, he gave up a game-tying home run just the other night. But he’s still got 39 saves on a 59-win team, and he’s probably the best closer in the National League. Other teams have to hold their breaths during those last few outs; the Mets…only have to cover their eyes from time to time, because those last few outs really are the toughest to get. All things considered, most teams would rather have Jeurys Familia as their closer than whomever they’ve currently got.
4. Wilmer Flores
Say what you want about whether or not he’s an everyday player; Wilmer Flores does two things: destroy lefty pitching, and find ways to come up big when things seem gloomy. From last July’s legendary walkoff homer, to his six-hit game earlier this season, to his walkoff fielder’s choice the other night, Citi Field’s folk hero always seems to create memorable moments for the Mets. Last year, the kid was moved to tears by how badly he wanted to remain a Met; this year, it looks like he’s preparing to help provide an emotional spark down the stretch yet again.
3. The remaining schedule
Many of the National League’s Wild Card contenders will have to play each other down the stretch, guaranteeing one of them loses virtually every day. Meanwhile, the Mets will spend a lot of time playing the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, both well under .500 and rebuilding. Of course, rebuilding teams can be dangerous down the stretch; but on paper, the Mets’ schedule si certainly favorable. Oh yeah: they get seven more head-to-head chances to gain ground on the Miami Marlins, who are suddenly running an infirmary. And…psst…just in case they can pull back within a week’s worth of games they also get to play the Washington Nationals six more times. You might remember how that worked out down the stretch last season.
2. The other Wild Card contenders
The National League Wild Card race has seemed, at times, like a group moonwalk. The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have been visited by the injury bug lately; the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to waffle; the Colorado Rockies have lost 8 of their last 10; and the Miami Marlins have lost Giancarlo Stanton for the rest of the season, while Jose Fernandez is being put on an innings limit down the stretch. Everyone surrounding the Mets in the standings is treading water; if the Mets can go on a run, they can take control of their destiny.
1. The Mets are finally getting healthy
Reyes is back in the lineup, providing much-needed speed and vibrant energy. Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to return to the lineup later in the week. Travis d’Arnaud seems healthy again, and his swing is looking shorter and more explosive. Steven Matz claims to be feeling better, and just yesterday took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. After a prolonged slump, Neil Walker is hitting nearly .500 over the past two weeks. Asdrubal Cabrera‘s return is within sight. If Cespedes, Reyes, Flores, d’Arnaud, and Walker are all healthy and in the same lineup as Jay Bruce, who’s begun to hit the ball harder of late, the Mets’ lineup suddenly looks as dangerous as it did down the stretch last year.
There are still dozens of games left; the Mets have a favorable schedule, and they’re getting healthy just as the teams around them are treading water and losing key players to injury. Their current state of affairs is partly their own fault, and largely the result of bad luck–but there are still reasons to believe they can right the ship and regain control of their destiny. It starts with the power of belief, which they at last appear to be regaining.