by Paul West
Despite a near-meltdown in the final inning, the Mets managed to avoid a sweep in Atlanta by way of a 20-hit performance in which they showcased why their offense is so dangerous. Newly acquired Marcus Stroman played stopper, putting up zeros long enough for the offense to get hot and wriggling out of middle-inning jams. The Mets moved back to within two games of a Wild Card spot, and now head to Kansas City to face the 43-78 Royals.
Make no mistake: this is a series the Mets absolutely must have.
The Mets were critiqued for the fact that their 14-1 run mainly came against less than elite competition; but as the saying goes, you play who’s on your schedule, and the ‘weak competition’ narrative sidesteps the fact that they swept the Minnesota Twins and won two of three from the Washington Nationals. It’s also incumbent upon would-be playoff teams to feast on overmatched competition; and if the Mets want to continue proving they belong in the playoff conversation, a decisive series of wins in Kansas City would go a long way in that direction.
This particular trip is well timed for the Mets from a number of angles. First, it allows them to put more of an optimal defense on the field without compromising their explosive lineup; as was the case in 2015, the Mets are constructed somewhat like an AL team, with multiple good hitters who haven’t got a clearly evident position. The fact that Juan Lagares is heating up at the plate makes this trip even more well-timed, as the Mets can put him in center field while still stacking the lineup with JD Davis, Peter Alonso, and Michael Conforto behind the hot-hitting Amed Rosario. Another reason the trip is well timed is the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers are headed into Atlanta, while the San Francisco Giants play the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers play the Nationals–guaranteeing that two of those four will lose ground each of the next few days. The hot-hitting Mets get to employ the DH and play a weak opponent while their rivals play each other.
Of course, the Mets can’t allow this series’ importance to disturb their flow; that’s exactly how bottom-tier teams play spoiler at this point in the season. They simply have to continue proving what they’ve already established: that they’re a playoff caliber team, and legitimate contenders for a repeat of 2015. That starts tonight.