by Paul West
Just a month ago, the New York Mets were running something of an infirmary, and their playoff hopes seemed to dwindle by the day. But they’ve since gone on an astounding run, fueled by Yoenis Cespedes‘ thunderous presence and the contributions from up and down the lineup. Manager Terry Collins has juggled the roster like a mad scientist, trying to strategically rest his key players just enough to keep them healthy enough to contribute–and while his game strategy remains questionable, he continues to prove that his greatest strength is sustaining team morale through literal and figurative bad breaks. Cespedes’ quad is still occasionally balky, various ailments nag various position players, Wilmer Flores is still suffering the ill effects of a plate collision (the result of a tactical error to which Collins, himself, confessed) that left him woozy and with a sore neck, and the returns of Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom are still in question. Still, amazingly, despite everything they’ve gone through as a team-the Mets are currently in playoff position, as the second National League Wild Card.
The schedule favors the Mets going forward, but only as of this coming weekend. Between now and Friday, they have to get through a road series against Daniel Murphy and the Washington Nationals, who have a firm hold on the NL East and won last night’s series opener in resounding fashion. Murphy has redefined the concept of a revenge season; not only is he on the short list for the Most Valuable Player Award, but he seems determined to beat the Mets single-handedly whenever they play. He’s got a hit in all 17 games against his former team this season, and he’s a stupefying 28-for-68 in said games. The Mets arrived in Washington having won six series in a row, and if they’re going to maintain their hold on the second Wild Card and have a shot at another series win, their hopes will rest on the broad shoulders of Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard and ageless wonder Bartolo Colon have emerged as the linchpins of the Mets’ ailing and exhausted pitching staff, and the man Mets fans know as Thor faces perhaps his biggest start fo the season tonight. Fortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals are up against the red-hot Chicago Cubs, while the San Francisco Giants‘ struggles continue; but a three-game sweep at the hands of the Nats would be bad for morale, momentum, and their suddenly increased playoff chances. The Mets’ best chance of avoiding a sweep is tonight, when the only active member of the Big Four tries to shut down a team with an axe to grind.