However you view the Mets’ second-half rebirth, either as a product of poor competition or an underachieving group finally getting its act together, there’s only one opinion that matters.
And the Mets believe they’re a playoff team.
They didn’t make any guarantees after Wednesday’s 7-2 victory completed a four-game sweep of the Marlins, who looked like they were in a hurry to depart Citi Field before the storm hit. But the Mets didn’t really have to say anything.
What this team has accomplished since the All-Star break has done all the talking for them. The Mets earned the chance to compete for a playoff berth by going 19-6 during that period, the best mark in the majors, and closing to within one game — yes, one — of a wild-card berth at the conclusion of Wednesday’s win.
Pete Alonso homered for the third time in as many days, Michael Conforto went deep twice (giving him 101 for his career) and Jeff McNeil — now affectionately known as Willow the pup’s dad — also stayed hot with a two-run blast. Steven Matz avoided a potential snowball inning in the second to pitch into the seventh, allowing two runs while striking out seven, and the bullpen didn’t even have to use Seth Lugo to finish.
Everything is coming up Mets now, and frankly, after winning six straight, and 13 of 14, it doesn’t matter who happened to be on the schedule. Yes, the Padres, White Sox, Pirates and Marlins are subpar teams. We can all agree on that.
But these victories count the same as any others, and it sure beats the alternative. The Mets fought their way back to becoming a playoff contender — something no one imagined, never mind anticipated — and now they get the chance to show just how good they are with six upcoming games against the Nationals (at home) and Braves (in Atlanta).
“We’ve got to slay the giant, so to speak,” Alonso said, “to get to the playoffs.”
Alonso, after a rough July, appears ready for the task, as well as a lineup wielding a big stick lately. The Mets hit 11 home runs in the four-game Marlins series, and have 83 in 52 games at Citi Field. Conforto has drilled seven homers in his last 11 games, and since the All-Star break is hitting .315 (29-for-92) with nine home runs, 20 RBIs and a 1.047 OPS.
“Our offense can be very dangerous,” Mickey Callaway said.
Callaway, nearly fired in June, can do no wrong himself. Even when he sat his two hottest hitters — Conforto and Amed Rosario — for the same game Tuesday, the Mets still won. If the manager had tried something like that in the first half, not only would the Mets likely have lost, but some sort of catastrophe would have ensued.
That’s not the vibe around the Mets these days. Now anything that can go right, usually does. Despite a forecast of severe storms threatening to wash out a chance for a sweep, they dispatched the Marlins in a tidy two hours, 26 minutes with nary a raindrop. Even Jeurys Familia pitched a clean eighth, and the bullpen isn’t quite the Achilles’ heel it was in the first half.
The funny part about all this? These are basically the same Mets from Opening Day, up and down the roster, with the exception of Robinson Cano, who is probably lost for the remainder of the season after suffering a hamstring tear Sunday. It just took them this long to get up to speed, and there’s no reason to suspect they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
"The confidence level is definitely different,” Callaway said. “But I think we’ve always felt we can be this team. Our bullpen struggles hurt us, and they’ve done a great job of turning that around in the second half.”
The Mets also are winning at Citi Field, where they improved to 32-20, and have 29 of their remaining 47 games at home, starting Friday night against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. And who better on the mound than Marcus Stroman, the former Patchogue-Medford star, whose infectious energy should have Citi rocking for his Flushing debut.
“This group is as fun as any that I’ve been around,” Conforto said.
Winning helps make it that way. And the Mets have been doing a lot of that lately, thanks to a stellar rotation, a surprisingly powerful lineup, and a bullpen that just might be solid enough not to mess things up.
The Nationals are going to be a step up in weight class. But that’s where the Mets belong right now, mixing it up with the heavyweights. So think of this coming weekend as a taste of October, seven weeks early. You can bet the Mets believe that.