By Matt Straub
The joy the New York Mets brought their fans this year by staying on the
periphery of the Wild Card race ended this week when they lost two in a row to the Atlanta Braves, dropping the Amazins’ to nearly 10 games back of the second wild card. There would still have been plenty of work to be done had the Mets swept the Braves, but with the two losses there seems to be no more hope of mounting any kind of challenge.
Now, with the playoffs gone, the Mets can spend the final month of the season focusing on the long-term future, using September to make critical decisions on who they believe will be part of the 2015 team. These decisions will be going on around the league for the non-contenders, which makes the series with the Phillies which begins tonight interesting.
Below you’ll find the pitching matchups as they are listed for the series, but it’s entirely possible Bartolo Colon could be traded away this week, as could A.J. Burnett of the Phillies. The deadline is long past, but waiver claims are often put in this week, just before the deadline to get players eligible for playoff rosters, which is Sept. 1.
The weekend set also allows young pitchers to face rivals and look to establish themselves as true parts of the future rotations. Jacob deGrom appears to be one of those players for the Mets, and beating of the Phillies would be another feather in his cap and something the Mets can build on for next month and into next year. The same can be said of Dillon Gee, who is entering the prime of his career and looking to build some momentum to be ready for a veteran role on next year’s staff. The Mets hope Matt Harvey is back as well, but the Mets will be interested in their current pitchers and whether or not they can show mental toughness.
By pitching well with the playoffs no longer in sight, deGrom and others can take a step toward proving they have the makeup to pitch in bigger games. This is especially true of deGrom, who is trying to come back from recent shoulder woes. You can’t tell how a player will react to pressure during insignificant games, but if your players quit down the stretch of a lost year, it’s hard to imagine them reacting well in a big spot.
And so, let’s look at the upcoming set between the Mets and Phillies and take a look at who you should watch to see if they are indeed part of the future.
Philadelphia Phillies (61-72, 10 GB of 2nd WC)
at New York Mets (62-72, 9.5 GB of 2nd WC)
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
David Buchanan (6-7 4.21) vs. Jacob deGrom (6-3, 3.13)
Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
Jerome Williams (4-5, 5.42) vs. Bartolo Colon (12-10, 3.82)
Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
A.J. Burnett (7-14, 4.30) vs. Dillon Gee (5-6, 3.77)
Playoff Picture: If the Mets had been able to win those last two games against the Braves, you could make a case that 7.5 games wouldn’t be too much to make up during the final month of the year. It would be a lot to ask, but crazier things have happened (just ask the 2011 Red Sox). With those two losses, however, the Mets find themselves 9.5 back of the second wild card and all but out of the mix. The Phillies are in the same boat, though their season has felt lost for some time.
Momentum: The Mets are coming off the two devastating losses which will likely be the ones that end their playoff dreams, as unlikely as they had been. The Phillies are coming off a shocking sweep of the Nationals after taking two of three from the Cardinals, so they have found their groove. It’s too late for them to make any September noise most likely, but throw in a series win over the Mariners, and the Phillies are at least playing a role in the playoff hopes of other teams.
Who’s Hot: Ryan Howard is starting to come to life for the Phillies, getting three hits Wednesday night and has seven hits in his last five games. Jimmy Rollins continues the trend of veterans getting back on track, hitting .333 over the last week, including five walks in the last six games. Marlon Byrd, who Mets fans know well, is also hitting well over his last 20 at-bats, getting six hits. For the Mets, Travis d’Arnaud also looks sharp, with seven hits in his last six games. Juan Lagares has nine hits and seven RBI in that same stretch, and will be someone the Phillies will need to keep off the bases.
Who’s Not: Curtis Granderson is getting a bobblehead soon, but he has just three hits in his last 23 at-bats, so maybe the doll would have better luck at the plate. Wilmer Flores is just 2-for-15 in the last week, and the Mets have a couple of other young hitters really struggling in Eric Campbell and Matt Den Dekker. For the Phillies, only Chase Utley and Cody Asche have had any difficulty at the plate recently, which is why they’re playing so well.
Look Ahead: The Mets are off to Miami to play the Marlins, who still have faint hopes of grabbing a Wild Card.