Not long before making himself into a national phenomenon at the All-Star Game, Mets righthander Jacob deGrom exuded some of the quiet confidence that has become his trademark.
When asked about his team's chances at winning the National League East, the Mets' most dominant pitcher in the first half didn't flinch.
"I think we have a good chance at it," he said. "If we keep pitching well, and we get some key hits when we need them, I think we have a chance."
How much of a chance?
According to projections at Fangraphs.com, the Mets begin the second half with a 13.2-percent chance of closing the two-game gap between themselves and the first-place Nationals.
Despite how injuries dominated their first half, the Mets enter the second half bullish on their chances to make noise. At 47-42, they remain in the playoff mix.
"We believe we're a good team," Lucas Duda said. "We may be young, but everybody was young at some point."
The Mets have leaned on youth and pitching to make up for the absences of David Wright (back) and Travis d'Arnaud (elbow), who both remain on the disabled list for the foreseeable future.
Without their bats, the Mets' offense has languished. Their 3.48 runs per game rank better only than the cellar-dwelling Phillies in the NL.
With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, the Mets are expected to be active in looking for help to fill the holes in a lineup that has been forced to endure without key pieces.
General manager Sandy Alderson said last week that the market has started developing.
"When you talk about timing, it's not just about pulling the trigger, it's about actually having a target," he said. "So, I would say that the target market is just beginning to reveal itself."
Still, it's unclear how the Mets will proceed. They have been linked consistently to the Athletics' Ben Zobrist, whose bat and defensive versatility have long made him an attractive target.
Other trade partners also have started to emerge. According to a source, the Padres have been scouting the Mets' minor-league system.
The Mets still don't appear to be in the mode of swinging a blockbuster deal that would involve their most attractive assets -- young arms such as Noah Syndergaard. Of course, the Mets may not need a magic bullet for their lineup. A few smaller upgrades, and better health, might inch them closer to the league average offensively. That alone could do wonders.
Consider the Cardinals, the Mets' opponents to begin the second half tomorrow night and owners of baseball's best record. They have compiled a 56-33 mark behind the NL's best pitching (2.71 ERA) and an offense that scores 3.9 runs per game, the league average.
When the Mets reach that four-run mark in a game -- which they accomplished a league-low 39 times -- they morph into world-beaters.
In the NL, teams that scored four runs or more in a game won 75.3 percent of their games. But the Mets won at an 87.2-percent clip (34-5), a tribute to their work on the mound.
"There's been some good things, there's been some rough things," manager Terry Collins said. "But you know what? We come out of the break, we're going to be in the hunt. And that's all we can ask for."
Notes & quotes:D'Arnaud has progressed to what Aderson called "very limited baseball activity" and has shed his protective brace . . . Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese will start against the Cards.
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