Ya Gotta Believe! Breaking down the Mets' race to the finish
Ah, the Pennant race.
After an absolutely dominant month of August during which the team went 20-8, the Mets find themselves in an enviable spot: ahead of the second-place Nationals in the NL East by a healthy 6.5 games.
The Nats have continued to struggle all month and the Mets, according to some, have run away with the division.
However, any Mets fan will remember the last time the NL East title was this close to our grasp - and that's the only mention I'll make of 2009. I promise.
What's it going to take for the Mets to make it through the remaining month (plus four days in October) and maintain their lead over the Nationals?
The more you look at the schedule, the more favorable it seems. Five more games against those lowly Phillies, who can't seem to beat the Mets, like, at all. Six games with Miami, who are just as bad as the Phillies, and maybe even worse.
Seven games against the Braves, who are a health 23 games under .500. It feels like the Mets have hardly played Atlanta this season, and indeed it seems the schedule backloaded the games between the two rivals; that works out nicely for the Mets who should have no problem with their old foes.
A four game series against the Reds in Cincinnati is nothing to worry about, either, as the Reds have fallen off a cliff since the All Star break and have a record not much better than that of Atlanta.
It gets a little tricky beyond that, though.
In a strange scheduling move that has been puzzling the Mets' commentators for months, the Mets and Yankees will meet for a late-season Subway Series at Citi Field. It's odd, because the Mets and Yankees really have nothing to do with one another, and each is in the midst of its own playoff race. One will play spoiler for the other. It's clearly a money-grab by the folks who made the schedule, who know that a late-season encounter between the two teams in the league's biggest market will sell tickets. It'll be fun to watch, sure, but the Yankees might be slightly more desperate than the Mets at that point as they continue to chase the unstoppable Blue Jays in the AL East. It's a dangerous set up for the Mets.
Then, it's those pesky Gnats - er, um, sorry. The Nats.
The Mets and the Nationals face off six times this month, including in the final three days of the season at Citi Field in Queens. The Nationals will battle all month to put themselves within shooting distance come that final series, and the Mets' only job is to fend them off long enough to make sure that series doesn't matter.
The truth is, the Mets look like the best team in the NL East by some distance. Washington's injuries have piled up all season and have not relented even this late in the season.
Like all Mets fans, I'm crossing my fingers that the lead over Washington is greater than 3 games come October 2. The less drama, the better.
Best case scenario?
The Mets play in September like they did in August, winning on the road, at home, in Japan, on the Moon, you name it. They extend their lead over the Nationals, taking two of three from them in Washington next week and set themselves up for a breezy, worry-free finish. With the padded lead the Mets are able to rest Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard for another start each and prepare the pitching staff for a playoff run.
I told you, I'm not making any further mention of the demons of 2008 and 2009.
Here's how it will really shake out:
Honestly, this time I'm siding with my optimistic self. All signs - for now, at least - point to the Mets continuing their solid play and holding off any late push from the Nationals that may come. And, frankly, it doesn't even look certain that the Nats have a push in them at this point.