Here's to hoping Mr. Met has something to smile about come the end of a brutal, brutal month of July.
Currently sitting at 40-37, 2.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals, the Mets are in a precarious spot. Winners of four straight after having lost the previous seven, this team is streaking - in both directions. How the streak rights itself will go a long way in deciding the Mets fate this season and their prospects of playing September baseball.
Today the Mets begin a two game home set vs. the Cubs. Then, it's a brief trip out west to visit the Giants and the Dodgers. After coming back home for three with Arizona, the All Star break hits; then it's 20 games in 21 days against the league-best Cardinals, six huge ones vs. the Nationals, four more with LA and a series each with the Padres and the Marlins.
Of this group, only the Marlins are more than four games below .500. What does that mean?
It means that each series between now and the end of the Marlins series on August 5, the Mets are facing most of the teams that they'll likely be vying with for a Wild Card spot.
At this point, it's difficult to imagine New York stealing the NL East from Washington. The Nationals are a better team, and seem to have gotten back on track after a really sluggish start. They were the favorites from day one, and it would take something close to a miracle for the Mets to take over. Granted, positive results in the two sets in July against the Nats could change that, but it's not likely.
That only further stresses the importance of bearing down and getting some victories against teams like Arizona, LA, San Francisco and San Diego.
Today's return of infielder Daniel Murphy after nearly a month on the sidelines should help a lot. He improves the defense quite a bit, and means that we no longer have to be disappointed with Dilson Herrera (who I like, but is clearly not ready for the Bigs) or angry beyond belief with Eric Campbell. Murph is also probably the most consistent hitter in the lineup, which is just what the struggling offense needs. If he can give some protection to Lucas Duda, maybe Duda can get going again and provide the power we know he has.
Travis d'Arnaud will be expected to return eventually, though perhaps not immediately when his DL stretch ends on July 6. He's a huge bat that the Mets desperately need and a massive improvement over Kevin Plawecki, who, like Herrera, might be great some day, but is not quite there yet.
1st inning optimism (a.k.a. the Young Boy's Buoyancy):
Jacob deGrom and Harvey trade no-hitters in back to back starts. Steven Matz averages a home run per game and is bumped to 3rd in the lineup. Bartolo Colon hits a triple. Suspended Jenrry Mejia comes back and fills the set-up man role admirably. The Mets win 22 of the 30 games between now and August 5 and make a real charge for the division.
7th inning frustration (a.k.a. Typical Mets Tragedy):
Duda continues to struggle and decides to shave his beard. d'Arnaud is out all month. Just as he's reported to return to the team, David Wright suffers a strange injury involving an ironing board and a toothpick and is out for another two months. The team falters against its tough opponents, wins just 9 games and falls far, far out of the playoff picture. Try again next year.
This is going to be a tough month. The opponents are talented and hungry. And the offense needs help. But the pitching is there, and the bullpen has improved (Hansel Robles is looking better and better), and that could be enough to limit the damage. In a boom or bust time, I think the team makes one big trade, the offense is ignited and the team emerges from the month very much in the hunt.