Every season, it seems, one team comes back from a lousy first half and makes a run at a playoff spot, especially in the wild-card era.
Last year, it was the Oakland A’s, who made it all the way to the wild-card game against the Yankees.
This year, it’s the San Francisco Giants, who went into Saturday two games out of a playoff spot after an 18-4 stretch that included four walkoff wins in a six-game span.
Three of those walkoff wins were against the Mets — another low point in a season full of them for the boys of Flushing.
But you know what? Amid all the trade talk before Wednesday’s deadline – Noah Syndergaard is going, no he’s staying, no he’s going and Marcus Stroman is coming (what?) – the Mets are actually playing better.
Could the Mets stand pat at the deadline and try to make a run?
“I think we’re playing well,” Jeff McNeil said before the Mets won their third in a row, 3-0, over the Pirates at Citi Field on Saturday night. “I know the Giants got hot lately and got right back into it. Why can’t we do the same? There’s a lot of time left in the season.”
The odds of the Mets going on the kind of run that would allow them to leapfrog six teams to get into a wild-card spot are astronomical — 6.1 percent going into Saturday, according to Fangraphs.com.
So … as someone once famously said … you’re telling me there’s a chance?
Saturday’s win came courtesy of the first career shutout and complete game by Steven Matz and a tie-breaking home run by Michael Conforto in the sixth inning.
The Mets improved to 11-8 in July. They improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break. They’re six games out in the wild-card race.Their starting pitchers are 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA in the second half (think the Yankees would take that?) — which is interesting because the players the Mets are talking the most about trading before the deadline are Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.
It seems no one is talking about Matz, although Saturday night’s gem might have a few general managers dialing up Brodie Van Wagenen to see if he would like to dangle a certain Long Island lefty.
Matz was in command from the first batter and didn’t allow a hit until Melky Cabrera doubled with one out in the fourth inning of a scoreless game. Matz finished the 99-pitch five-hitter with no walks and seven strikeouts as the thrilled crowd of 39,944 chanted “Let’s Go Mets” in a way that has rarely been heard at Citi this season.
The Mets didn’t pick up their first hit against Pirates righthander Trevor Williams until J.D. Davis doubled with two outs in the fifth. Davis started in leftfield because Dominic Smith was placed on the 10-day injured list with a stress reaction in his left foot before the game.
“A very sad day for me,” Smith said.
But a happier day for Davis, who followed his double with a two-run homer to center in the seventh to make it 3-0.
The Mets have had so many sad days this season that it’s easy to forget Van Wagenen thought he had assembled a contender in his first offseason as GM. The former agent conceded that he had failed when he addressed the media after the All-Star break. He hasn’t spoken since as he works the phones in advance of the deadline.
What if the smart play is to do nothing because the team Van Wagenen thought he had built is ready to rock? The Mets have a soft schedule coming up, with a road trip to play the White Sox and Pirates after Sunday’s series finale and then four games against the Marlins. It’s too bad for Van Wagenen that the trade deadline isn’t Aug. 7, when that stretch will be over.
Don’t misunderstand: It’s extremely unlikely the 2019 Mets will be that team to emerge from the depths of a lousy first half and contend. But even if Ya Don’t Gotta Believe, you should know some of the players haven’t completely given up hope.
A night like Saturday shows why.
“It can happen,” McNeil said. “Everyone here knows that. We’re not out of it. We’re not where we want to be, but it can definitely happen. You win series and a few sweeps here and there, we can get right back into it. Everyone in here’s super talented. We do have a team that can make a run.”