by Paul West
The object in the rearview mirror is no longer closer than it appears–it’s right in the side window.
The Mets are now the 8th team (per @SlangsOnSports) in the divisional era to have a double-digit lead in games and be caught.
This is due to an Atlanta team that’s won at a seemingly supernatural clip for months; but it’s also due to the Mets getting absolutely clotheslined, over the course of a weekend, by teams at the bottom of the standings.
The Mets are now the first team (per @StatsbySTATS) to play three games in a row against a team with 30 fewer wins…and lose all three by six runs or more.
This is on the heels of winning series against the Dodgers, Phillies, and Atlanta in a two-week span, and seemingly having noting left to prove.
Meanwhile, Max Scherzer–with a recent history of hitting walls around this time of year–left his last start early due to left side fatigue, Starling Marte left tonight’s game after being hit on the hand by a pitch, and Taijuan Walker seems to be hitting another late-season ceiling. As Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor have slumped woefully, from burning the candle at both ends while trying to keep Atlanta at arm’s length. While seemingly everything that can wrong, suddenly is.
What now? Now, the Mets must remember three things.
First, per the above, they’ve proven all they can in terms of their place at the top of the MLB leaderboard. They’ve beaten every other team at the top; they’ve won with pitching, timely hitting, defense, and countless displays of fortitude and resilience. They know, and the rest of baseball knows, they’re a legitimate contender–in fact, it’s why they get every team’s best shot, even when they play the so-called bottom run teams.
Second: despite the (in this instance understandable) widespread panic among Mets fans, the Mets also still control their destiny. Recent events notwithstanding, the Mets still face a September schedule filled with teams well out of playoff contention; they also play Atlanta three more times head to head, and they already lead the season series between the teams.
Third: unless their tailspin extends for the next month–leading to a collapse that would certainly be the worst in baseball history–the Mets are still virtually assured of a playoff spot. This would make their postseason route a lot harder, as it would cost them much-needed rest time and likely take them through Atlanta and Los Angeles, creating an uphill climb to a pennant and World Series title; but as we’ve seen many times before, wild cards can go all the way.
What does it all mean?
It means the Mets, as usual, are in a curious and precarious position. They’ve proven all they can regarding their rightful place among the game’s elite teams, but they enter September with a lot more at stake than expected. Losing the NL East race would be a memorable, frustrating, historic turn of events…but it wouldn’t be the end.
It’s generally understood that top teams do two things: split games with other top teams, and take care of business against the rest. Having accomplished the former–and more daunting–task, they would do well to focus on what’s to be gained rather than the Michael Myers-esque sense of impending doom that others are feeling on their behalf. If the Mets stay loose, and remember who they are and what they’ve done so far, they’ll reclaim control of both their destiny and the National League East.