They were scary, weren’t they?
Atlanta, those defending World Series champs, skulking around in the second-place shadows of the NL East, waiting to exploit whatever misstep, whatever weakness the Mets would betray down the stretch.
But that’s the thing with monsters that go bump in the dark: They lose so much of their power when you shine a light on them.
Atlanta entered this series 3 1⁄2 games behind the division-leading Mets, their lineup just a little more potent than the Mets’, their bullpen a little sharper. And for a Mets fan base that has long felt the burn of unrewarded hope, it was too easy to let that negative voice take over.
You know the one, the taunting lilt that says good times don’t last in Flushing, that this was the weekend the emperor would finally lose his clothes.
A funny thing happened on the way to disaster, though. The Mets played four baseball games and, wouldn’t you know it, they won three.
The Atlanta squad that took off on a 14-game winning streak in mid-June also couldn’t hit a lick against Max Scherzer. The team that was just a half-game behind the Mets two weeks ago took a few looks at Edwin Diaz and decided it was a few too many, thank you very much.
Now, after winning three out of the first four, including a sweep of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Mets will trot out Jacob deGrom on Sunday. And it won’t be just any deGrom — it’ll be a deGrom who has been held in baseball captivity for months, a caged animal making his second start and first at Citi Field this year, and so, so ready to be let loose.
DeGrom doesn’t just have the talent to make a statement, he’s got the potential to write a whole dang speech. A win also would put them up by 6 1⁄2 games, their largest lead since June 18, and they’re already 13-0-2 in series against divisional opponents.
When you look at that, and when you look at Pete Alonso and his 93 RBIs or Francisco Lindor heating up like a $341 million man should, you’ve got to wonder who the scary ones really are.
“For us to show up and bring the energy and go out there and beat them, that’s great,” Scherzer said. “It’s great to get these wins, but it’s not over yet . . . You want to beat them as much as you can, but it’s going to take that effort the rest of the season.”
He’s right. The Mets are not some sort of super-team: The bullpen needs help, the offense has wilted at times, and they’ve more than benefited from a few lucky breaks. But they also are not some snake-bitten disaster waiting to happen, even if that sentiment — and general underdog mentality — has long been etched into the fabric of this franchise.
After their Game 1 win Saturday — they beat Atlanta, 8-5, behind 12 singles and a double — I asked Buck Showalter about the sustainability factor.
The Mets have one of the best batting averages on balls put in play in baseball, and so many of their hits, especially in that game, came on contact that Statcast filed under “low expected batting average.”
There are two schools of thought when it comes to stuff like this: One, the Mets will regress to the mean, their BABIP will peter out toward the league average, and their offense will suffer when it matters the most.
Two, the Mets are a contact team, have the second-fewest strikeouts in baseball, and when bat meets ball, shifts get beaten and defenses are involved, good things happen (note that Atlanta made three errors in Game 2).
“This is what, 107 games?” Showalter said. “It’s been sustained for a while and it’s kind of who we are — guys who put tough at-bats together.’’
It’s not the most intimidating game plan in the world — little dribblers, station-to-station baseball, sliding in under a tag — but does it have to be?
“We talk about grinding at-bats, and we want to be known as that,” Lindor said. “We’re the team that grinds pitch after pitch and isn’t going to give up no matter what the score is.”
So no, the Mets aren’t NL East monsters or giants, or whatever manner of intimidating beast you want to conjure, but they sure are tough to beat. And in October, that’s the scariest creature of all.