Seven years of frustration are going to come down to a few weeks.
For the Mets to win their first division title since 2015, they’ll need to take care of some very doable business. That was once a horrifying ordeal, as both the 2007 and 2008 Mets can attest to. In each of those wasted years, the Mets held at least a three-game lead in the National League East on Sept. 12, with that lead famously sitting at seven games in ‘07.
Both of those teams ended up missing the playoffs entirely, something that the 2022 Mets won’t have to worry about, but the bad mojo that would come with losing the division ought to be a huge motivating factor in these final weeks of the regular season.
Thanks to some weekend help from the Seattle Mariners, who took two of three from Atlanta, the Mets have a 1.5-game edge in the NL East with roughly three and a half weeks left. With the Braves slightly reeling from the Seattle series — and still on the west coast, a place no eastern team wants to be this late in the season — the Mets have to strike. Atlanta has the luxury of an off day this week, while the Mets are in the midst of 13 games in 13 days, but the next seven days for the Mets could be their great separator if they rise to the occasion.
Even with the expanded playoffs that are in place for the first time, by this point of the MLB calendar there are still way too many teams that are fully out of the race. A lot of chatter surrounding those teams right now makes them sound like they have the upper hand, the ones with so much power to snatch and none to lose whatsoever.
Take the Chicago Cubs, the Mets’ dance partner for the next three games. The Cubs will start the series with a 58-82 record, 24.5 games from the top of their division and already eliminated from playoff contention. They also may be without catcher Willson Contreras, their best hitter by far, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Contreras would be eligible to come off the injured list on Tuesday, but with the Cubs in the position they are, there’s no reason to drop him back in the lineup for games that are essentially meaningless to them. Knowing that the remaining season is all about personal development, making their final season numbers a bit more stomachable and playing spoiler for the overachievers, the depleted Cubs can play loose and without any pressure.
On the other side, the Mets have to get themselves up for their fourth straight series against a team with no mathematical chance of getting to the postseason. As much as ball players love to say that every game is important and the opponents are still worthy of respect — the Mets have leaned on some variation of “they’re still big leaguers” when asked about their September schedule being supposedly easy — the undeniable fact is that these games don’t inspire nearly as much verve as ones against the Braves or Phillies would.
Luckily, the Mets will have a fired up Citi Field crowd to help raise the energy levels, but if they think that gearing up for the Cubs (and then four with the Pirates) is a challenge, they’re in for a real treat when they head to Oakland on the 23rd for a weekend set at the Coliseum in front of exclusively family, friends and A’s fans with severe Stockholm Syndrome.
That’s partially why these next seven games against Chicago and Pittsburgh are so vital. Any little micro-advantage can go a long way at this time of year. Getting to potentially feast on these two NL Central cellar dwellers at home while the Braves tangle with the Giants in San Francisco and then the Phillies at home could be a pivotal point of the pennant push. Even going from a 1.5-game lead to a three-game one is a huge win for the Mets. That’s also a very strong possibility given that the Mets won’t face any particularly tough starting pitching until they play Milwaukee on the 19th, while the Braves are scheduled to face Carlos Rodon and Aaron Nola this week.
Everybody can see, taste and smell the end of the road. The Mets can’t quite go on cruise control though, or even ease up on their pace ever so slightly, otherwise Atlanta could very well zoom past them. In looking at both team’s schedules, this is the miniature stretch where the Mets have to do some damage. Anything below a 5-2 record in this seven-game homestand qualifies as a disappointment, and even worse, could sink them into a harrowing wild card series rather than a first-round bye.
Source: Berkshire mont