PHILADELPHIA — The Mets don’t have a closer, but they do — all of a sudden — have a pretty good bullpen.
Four relievers combined for four shutout innings, including a pair from Seth Lugo for the save, in the Mets’ 6-3 win over the Phillies on Saturday. That highlighted the unit’s dramatic turnaround from first-half weakness to second-half strength as the Mets chase a National League wild card berth.
“I always knew that the bullpen would be a huge part of our team,” said Luis Avilan, who pitched one of those innings. “Unfortunately, because of injuries and other stuff, we couldn’t perform the way we should perform in the first half. We’re showing up in the second half and we’re doing a great job.”
A turning point often referenced by manager Mickey Callaway: July 2, the day the Mets activated Avilan, Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia from the injured list.
Through July 1, the bullpen had a 5.64 ERA, third worst in the major leagues. Since then, they have a 3.87 ERA, easily in the top 10.
Wilson, who got two outs and stranded Familia’s runner on Saturday, has a 0.87 ERA in 25 games since returning. Avilan, who inherited Steven Matz’s bases-loaded, no-out jam and allowed just one inherited runner to score, has an 0.54 ERA in 22 games since coming back.
Even Familia — who struggled mightily through July and still usually isn’t trusted in a game’s biggest spots — has rebounded with a 1.88 ERA in August.
“Avilan and Wilson, they both stepped up in big situations tonight and got outs,” Callaway said. “Those guys coming back and pitching well like they have has changed everything. We’re a different bullpen.”
And yet a question remains: Who will finish tight games on a given night? Lugo (3.00 ERA) had three saves in August. Displaced closer Edwin Diaz (5.33 ERA) had one.
Diaz has shown signs of turning it around — scoreless appearances in six of his past seven tries — and if the Mets make a run into the playoffs, the best version of their bullpen probably features him dominating in the ninth.
But for now, Callaway said “I really don’t” consider anyone in particular the closer.
“We have three or four guys who can do it on any given day,” Callaway said. “When we put Lugo in there in the eighth, you don’t know that he’s going to be effective or he might throw too many pitches to even throw the ninth, so we have Diaz ready to go.”