KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What has been true for the Mets for the past several homestands is true again now: This is their biggest, most important one yet.
The next week and a half, though, comes with another superlative: It also just might be the toughest homestand of the year.
The Mets begin a 10-day, nine-game stay in Flushing on Tuesday night against the Indians. The Braves visit over the weekend, followed by the Cubs next week. That’s three teams who hold playoff spots — two of which the Mets directly are competing against in the standings — visiting Citi Field, where the Mets are 34-21, the third-best home record in the National League.
For the Mets, who are 64-60 and two games back of the last NL wild-card berth pending the results of Monday’s games, this is a proving ground. If they want to get to the playoffs, they’ll have to beat playoff-caliber teams.
“We have to come in ready to click on all cylinders,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We can’t fall behind against these teams. We have to grind out every at-bat. Don’t let their starters settle in. It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel like we’re up for it, especially in front of our home crowd.”
Among the storylines to track while the Mets are home: Pete Alonso is one home run shy of tying the franchise single-season record of 41 (shared by Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran). Jeff McNeil (strained left hamstring) and Robert Gsellman (sore right triceps) will be eligible to come off the injured list this weekend. And Brandon Nimmo (bulging disc) could be close to returning after the next 10 days if all goes well in his rehab assignment.
The Mets have cooled off since their soft section of the schedule ended, managing to win a series against the rebuilding Royals over the weekend but finishing their road trip at just 3-3. They suspect playing in front of the Citi crowd — which was downright raucous earlier this month — will help.
“It’s going to be tough, but hopefully we can continue to get that energy from the fans, from the atmosphere,” Michael Conforto said. “We really fed off of the fans the past homestand. It allowed us to be energized. It’s a huge advantage for us.”
Callaway said: “Obviously we’re not clicking exactly like we were [during a 15-1 run], but sometimes you have to battle through a stretch. And we’ve battled through this stretch. We’re in a pretty good spot right now. Now we have another challenge ahead of us. There’s always going to be that next challenge.”
The next immediate challenge is the Indians. When the 2019 schedule was released last year, this interleague series looked like it would be a fun and maybe emotional one for Callaway. It will be his first time managing against mentor Terry Francona and Cleveland, the club with which Callaway made his name as a pitching coach, a reputation that catapulted him to a high-profile gig in the Big Apple.
Callaway adopted an all-business tone about it, though.
“It’ll be good,” Callaway said. “They have a solid team. We’re going to go out there and put it on them.”
Sure, but will facing the Indians mean anything to him?
“Just more of a chance to get us into the wild-card race and things like that,” Callaway said. “Hopefully I can help out some of the pitchers with how to attack some of the hitters. That’s about it.”
Branded as underdogs by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen on the first day of the second half — a stark departure from his offseason “come get us” attitude — the Mets have played their best baseball the past month-plus. Don’t expect an upped degree of intensity or a flipping of the proverbial switch come Tuesday night.
“The switch,” Alonso said, “has been on.”
Home's Where the Heart Is
The Mets have been terrific at Citi Field (34-21), where they welcome three playoff contenders in a pivotal nine-game stretch that could determine their own postseason fate.
Shane Bieber (12-5, 3.27) vs Steven Matz (7-7, 4.33)
Adam Plutko (5-3, 4.67) vs Marcus Stroman (7-11, 3.21)
Aaron Civale (1-2, 1.50) vs Noah Syndergaard (8-6, 3.86)
Friday-Sunday vs Braves - (Mets 5-8 vs. Braves this year)
Aug. 27-29 vs Cubs - (Mets 2-2 vs Cubs this year)