By Matt Straub
The New York Mets are impossible to discuss in a single, traditional, flowing column. They are, after all, the team with more fits, starts and non-sequiturs than any other in baseball. They are currently one of the hottest team in baseball but are also only the sixth-best team in the National League.
They don’t beat good teams, but win every game they have to when things are getting bleak. They lose in soul-crushing ways, then win three straight. Then, when things are going great, they pull the rug out from under their fans.
So, since the Mets can’t be discussed in one long column, let’s break down all the ups and down which make up the Mets by discussing the things which make them playoff contenders and the problems I continue to believe will keep them out of the playoffs.
WHY THE METS CAN MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
Terry Collins could be manager of the year: I have long believed managing a baseball team isn't about when to hit-and-run. Most educated fans could pick relievers and run the actual game. Good managers know how to handle their team's psyche, and few have done a better job of that this year than Collins, who has been brilliant at pushing the right buttons. He can be tough on players but has also shown an ability to keep the team going when things get tough. Most teams would have crumbled after the Wilmer Flores fiasco and the subsequent blown lead after the rain delay. Instead, Collins got his team back and swept the Nationals. He might make some in-game mistakes, but every manager does. The bigger thing is how well he manages his players in the clubhouse.
The Mets’ lineup is at least competent now: The Mets had to make the trades they did. Their team isn't an offensive juggernaut now, but Collins has plenty of options now whereas he used to have a bench populated by minor league-level players. Now he can make moves.
The rotation is even better: I don't have to waste words telling you how good the Mets' rotation is. Assuming they don't do something insane like putting inning limits in (which they are talking about), the Mets have the horses to get to October, as long as the bullpen doesn't cost the starters the wins they earn.
They have a true home field advantage: The Mets are playing .667 ball at home this year, which is outstanding. I'm not sure if it's sustainable, but if it is, the Mets will be tough to beat at Citi Field. That's half the battle, since they have 18 to go at home.
WHY THE METS WON’T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
The Mets have no bullpen: If the starters don’t go eight and leave with a big lead, the Mets have barely a 50-50 shot to win. Just look at Sunday's debacle. Matt Harvey pitches six good innings, but the bullpen gives up seven runs in three innings. And this is not an isolated incident. You can go all the way back to the tarp game right before the swept Washington. Jeurys Familia has been much better since that blowup, but do you really trust him in a big game? Tyler Clippard might be turning a corner, but four clean innings doesn't earn my trust yet. Even if you get to those two and can trust them, there's still plenty of trouble if the starters don't finish the seventh inning.
The offense still isn’t THAT good: Lucas Duda got insanely hot and is a good player, but he’s not as good as he was during his home run flurry. He has also been hurt, and while he's supposed to start Tuesday, you have to expect some rust since he has one plate appearance in a week. Curtis Granderson has hit a bunch of homers lately, but still can't hit a lefty, and outside of Cespedes, the rest of the team is a bunch of decent parts. The good news is the Mets have a number of people who could come through, but there aren’t many you expect to. And while David Wright is expected back soon, he isn’t someone who is going to carry the team by himself, especially after missing nearly the entire year.
The Nationals are likely to bounce back: This is the big one. Washington’s team ERA is over five since the All-Star break. Do you really believe that will continue? Max Scherzer is going to remember how to pitch. Stephen Strasburg has been tremendous since he returned from injury last week. And while the Nationals are being wildly mismanaged by the anti-Collins in Matt Williams, whose “we’re fine” mentality has helped prevent Washington from getting the kick-start it needed to get out of its slump, the schedule is about to do it for him. A big part of their struggles of late were due to a killer schedule, which gets much, much easier the rest of the way. The Mets schedule isn't too bad either, but if the Nationals get hot, the Mets will feel footsteps again soon.
The Mets have only one way in: Other than the obvious, which is the four-game lead in the loss column, much of the math is against the Mets. For starters, the Mets just don’t beat good teams. This is particularly true of Pittsburgh and the Cubs, who New York would likely play in a wild-card playoff. Since they’re winless against those teams (and well under .500 against teams with winning records for the year), it’s a good bet New York doesn’t get out of that game, ending the year at Game 163. Of course, the Mets won’t get there. They’re well out of a wild card spot, making winning the East a must if New York wants to make the postseason. The Mets need to win the division to make the playoffs, and have been stellar in the division. That trend must continue down the stretch, however, since there's no fallback plan. Throw in the way the Phillies and Braves have picked up the pace, and that division record might not last through September.
If not, the Mets are done.