by Paul West
For the division-leading Mets, the first weekend in August was playoffs come early as Atlanta arrived for five games at Citi Field with a chance to take the lead in the National League East. The Mets answered the bell, taking four of five–with the only loss coming when Taijuan Walker hurt himself in the first inning and gave up eight runs. Even so, the Mets clawed back to within striking distance in that game, making a decisive statement to the effect of this isn’t like other seasons; we’re not going anywhere.
Both teams have held serve since then, and Atlanta has actually gained a bit of ground; but the Mets’ division lead still sits at five and a half games (six in the loss column) as they head to Atlanta for another four games. They’re coming in hot, but hurt: they’ve won 17 of their last 20 games, but they’ve suffered injuries to Luis Guillorme and Eduardo Escobar, two big reasons their infield defense is solid and their lineup is balanced. They’ve been hesitant to call up anyone from their crop of highly ranked prospects–Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos are the prime candidates–but their hand might be forced, as Guillorme’s groin tightness and Escobar’s oblique tightness are injuries that could get much worse if they’re rushed back to heavy rotation. The Mets’ recent success has been on the strength of their light-out pitching staff, headlined by a starting rotation that’s looked like a handful of aces since the All Star Break–and anchored by closer Edwin Diaz, who’s putting up a historically good season. Right now, every pitching matchup seems to favor the Mets, and with Ronald Acuna still battling knee soreness, the Atlanta lineup will need its roleplayers to rise to the occasion.
Atlanta’s season might well be on the line, as the weeks while away and the Mets refuse to go away; but this series is just as important for the Mets, who can clear a comfortable lead in the division and fully set their sights on the Dodgers–who sit six games ahead of them for the top National League seed and home-field advantage til a possible World Series. But they can’t get caught looking that far ahead as long as there are threats afoot; the Mets need to continue making one statement after another, one series at a time. The key will be cliche: game by game, at-bat by at-bat, and battle by battle, and save the speculation for the folks outside the lines. If they hold steady to this approach, they might look up and find themselves exactly where they want to be.