By Declan Finn
The New York Mets have had their problems this season, there's no doubt about that. The offense is one of the worst in baseball. The team can't seem to win on the road. Injuries have also taken their toll, with David Wright, the face of the franchise coming into the season, possibly not returning until next spring. But with all of those problems, this New York Mets team is right in the thick of the playoff chase.
The Mets are five games over .500 and trail the Washington Nationals by just two games in the NL East. They are one game behind the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card spot as well, so the second half of the season should be an exciting one for the Mets and their fans.
In our preseason primer for the Mets season, we made five bold predictions for the year, with the first and most important being the Mets would finally end their postseason drought and make the playoffs as a wild card team. While fans shouldn't be happy with just being in the race at this point, the Mets have certainly made their presence known to the rest of the National League, and are right in the middle of both the division and wild card races. For a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2006, that's a great thing.
So, our first bold prediction for the Mets this season is looking solid right now. But how about the other four predictions made at the conclusion of spring training? Here's a look at where those picks currently stand before we preview the first series of the second half, a three-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals on the road this weekend.
Our second bold prediction was beyond bold, as we picked Curtis Granderson to hit 30 home runs this year. Hey, they're called bold for a reason. Granderson, who had a horrible first season with the Mets, does lead the team in home runs this season with 13 at the midway point. But Granderson is on pace to hit 24 homers this season, which would beat last season's total by four. But for this prediction to come true, he's going to have to go on a tear in the second half to make up those six extra home runs.
Our third pick was wishful thinking before the season and remains wishful thinking for Mets fans today, and that's making a trade for a starting shortstop. Even though the Mets should make a move not only at shortstop, but for a big bat that could solidify the lineup as well, it doesn't appear general manager Sandy Alderson is going to make a deal, whether by his own thinking, or ownership's refusal to add payroll. If they do make a trade, the name being thrown around the most is Ben Zobrist.
You can already forget about our fourth prediction, which had David Wright finishing in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting at the end of the year. Our thought-process still makes sense ... if the Mets are going to make the playoffs, one would have to believe Wright would be a big part of the reason why. And, in turn, the Mets star hitter would get a lot of recognition in the form of MVP votes. But Wright couldn't stay healthy and the Mets might have to go the entire year without him helping end the team's long postseason drought.
Surprisingly, our final prediction isn't on pace to come true, as we picked Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom to combine for 33 wins this season. Harvey is 8-6 this season and deGrom, who made the All-Star team, is 9-6, putting them at a combined 17 wins heading into the second half of the season. Projection wise, Harvey is at 15 wins right now, while deGrom is one better, at 16 wins. That would combine for 31 victories, two below our prediction. If the Mets can put together a more consistent offense, one capable of scoring at least four runs a game, than Harvey and deGrom should be able to up their win totals in the second half and bring us closer go fruition in our final bold prediction from the preseason.
All are interesting storylines to follow as we come off the All-Star break. Here is our insider's look at the first series of the second half, a three-game set with the Cardinals in St. Louis.
New York Mets (47-42, 2 GB in NL East)
at St. Louis Cardinals (56-33, 1st Place in NL Central)
Friday, 8:15 p.m.
Noah Syndergaard (4-4, 3.11) vs. Lance Lynn (6-5, 2.90)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
Bartolo Colon (9-7, 4.46) vs. John Lackey (7-5, 2.99)
Sunday, 2:15 p.m.
Jonathon Niese (5-8, 3.61) vs. Michael Wacha (10-3, 2.93)
The Mets enter the second half of the season two games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East and one game behind the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, holding a 2.5-game lead over the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Mets entered the All-Star break winning seven of their last 10 games, cutting two games off their NL East deficit. They've won four games in a row, including a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals might have the best record in the majors, but they lost three straight games before the break against the Pirates, whittling their once formidable lead in the division to just 2.5 games.
Three Cardinals To Watch
1. Not many would have predicted before the season Jhonny Peralta would be the best offensive player the Cardinals have, but so far, that's exactly the case. Peralta leads the team in average, home runs and RBI. He is batting .298 with 20 doubles, 13 home runs and 46 RBI. Even though the Cardinals lost the last three games to the Pirates heading into the break, it wasn't for a lack of contribution by Peralta, who went 7-for-14 (.500) with a double, home run and two RBI.
2. Matt Carpenter doesn't have the average he was hoping for, at .266 for the season, but he does have 21 doubles, nine home runs and 43 RBI. The home run total is just two below his career high of 11 back in 2013. He struggled heading into the break, going 4-for-20 (.200) over four games, but did have a homer and four RBI. He made the two previous all-star teams and was fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2013.
3. Pitching is where the Cardinals truly excel, and Wacha, Sunday's starter, might be the best of a tremendous bunch. It's why the Mets will have to win at least one of the first two games of this series or the threat of a sweep will be real, which would be a horrible start to the second half. Wacha has been up and down in his last four starts, allowing five runs in two starts sandwiched around two starts where he allowed just one run in each game. He is just 3-3 over his last eight starts, watching his ERA go from 1.87 to 2.97, so the Mets might be catching him at the right time.
The Mets go straight from St. Louis to Washington for what should be a huge three-game series with the division-leading Nationals.