by Paul West
Given their recent history, and despite having clinched a playoff spot last week, Mets fans might be forgiven a bit of anxiety during the season’s final week. Because after keeping the NL East in a chokehold for most of the regular season, they now face what was a few months ago a distant possibility: finishing the season somewhere other than first place.
This has revived the ghosts of seasons past: the infamous 2007 collapse; the 2006 introduction to Wainwright’s curveball; last year’s mind-boggling second half. A team that laughed their way to a ridiculous first half lead and the top of the MLB power rankings, has been caught in the standings with less than a week to go.
To make matters worse: tonight, they went into Atlanta with a chance to cement their first place status–two days after a momentous comeback to go back up by a game…and Jacob deGrom gave up three home runs and the offense stalled yet again.
And, alas, the NL East is tied yet again.
Time to panic? Maybe not.
One key difference between many late-season collapses (the Mets are far from the only team to have had one) and this season? The Mets haven’t exactly given it away. Yes, they were run ragged by bottom-tier teams a few weeks ago, when they had a chance to put the division out of reach; but one of those teams was the Chicago Cubs, who’ve been fairly hot in recent weeks despite their aggregate record. But the Mets Mets have also recently swept four games from the Pirates and taken two of three from the Brewers, and are 40-23 in the second half. They’ve blown chances, sure, but so has Atlanta and so has virtually every team this season at some point. This isn’t like 2007, when they couldn’t get out of their own way for the last two weeks of the season.
Relatedly: Atlanta has gone 73-32 since June. That’s absolutely absurd, and it’s a testament to the Mets’ fortitude that they weren’t passed in the standings weeks ago.
Another reason to take a deep breath: even with tonight’s loss, the Mets can secure the season series–and the tiebreaker–with just one win in Atlanta this weekend. They then return home for three games, in what should be a spirited–albeit nervous–Citi Field. Their magic number remains six, and any win this weekend will drop it by two.
Last but not least: the Mets still have an on-paper advantage in terms of the coming pitching matchups. Max Scherzer has been in these moments before, and nearly without exception he’s flourished in them; in all likelihood, he’ll give the Mets a good chance to pull ahead and shrink their magic number tomorrow. The key? Not to panic.