by Paul West
Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Mets are on the verge of completing a mission many would have called impossible just six weeks ago. They have a game and a half lead over the San Francisco Giants for the first Wild Card position, and the St. Louis Cardinals are a game behind the Giants–all with the end of the season just a few days away. Their magic number to clinch a postseason berth is down to two, meaning the Mets could officially be a playoff team as soon as tomorrow. Even to those Mets fans who always knew it was possible, this eventuality would come as an immense relief in light of this season’s trials and tribulations. The Mets have lost all but one of the highly touted Big Four pitching staff that had most observers listing them among favorites to emerge from the National League and defend their 2015 pennant; they’ve endured the lengthy absence of slugger Lucas Duda due to a back fracture, the intermittent absences of Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera due to leg injuries, the troubling diagnosis which ended David Wright‘s season, the loss of Neil Walker to season-ending surgery, and the staggering slump of Michael Conforto, which led to his astounding demotion to the minor leagues. They lost Juan Lagares for an extended period to a hand injury, and Travis d’Arnaud struggled to stay healthy all season and now struggles to produce runs. They spent weeks upon weeks as one of the worst teams in history with runners in scoring position, and they appear to have lost Wilmer Flores, master of the big moment, until further notice to a wrist injury. Curtis Granderson appeared on his way to setting a Major League record for the most embarrassingly low ratio of RBIs to home runs.
Still, they persevered, with contributions from unlikely sources, as they showed remarkable resilience time and time again. And after two weeks in survive-and-advance mode, the Mets are on the verge of doing just that: surviving the regular season, and advancing into their second straight postseason.
Nevertheless, they can’t relax just yet.
The Mets close out the regular season by visiting the Philadelphia Phillies, who are 70-88 and in the midst of a three game losing streak. During last year’s memorable run, the Mets put up some big numbers in Philly, and it seems to bode well for them that lefties Duda, Granderson and Jay Bruce (whose mind-boggling slump after being traded to the Mets only compounded their woes) all seem to be heating up at the right moment. But the Phillies and Mets are still rivals, and many Mets dreams have been derailed at the hands of the Phillies in recent years. Catcher Cameron Rupp has already openly opined that “we can ruin somebody’s season,” and he and his teammates would likely take great joy in knocking the Mets out of the playoff race. Moreover, in the final game of the season the Mets will face Jerad Eickhoff, a talented young pitcher who’s capable of giving them a real headache.
Last but not least, clinching a playoff spot isn’t the only thing the Mets have their eyes on. At 44-37, the Mets have become a relatively strong home team once again, and they would love to ensure that a possible Wild Card game would take place in front of the Citi Field fans. The best possible scenario would be to clinch both a Wild Card berth, and home field advantage in said Wild Card game, before Sunday afternoon–but this would involve winning on Friday and Saturday, as well as getting help from the Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. The silver lining in all of this is that the Mets, at last, control their Wild Card destiny, and if they handle their business this weekend, they’ll get at least one more home game next Wednesday. They’re slowly but surely getting as healthy as can be expected, their lineup is beginning to look as daunting as it’s looked in months, and closer Jeurys Familia continues to chug along, having just notched his 50th save of the season.