You don’t want to look ahead to October and it is 10-games into the new season. But at the end of play Thursday night the New York Mets were a first place team a half game ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National league east. And there is every reason to believe, after their fifth straight win, that they can be in that same position when the calendar says October.
The manager Terry Collins likes what he is seeing with his 7-3 team. After taking the first of four games from the Miami Marlins, with a 7-5 win at Citi Field, in a game where the Mets trailed twice, Collins was asked about October and first place.
“Uhhh, October 1, it’ll mean a helluva lot,” Collins said. He meant, of course, that first place at the beginning of October is when it really means something. And if the Mets continue to play at this pace, of course there is a long way to go, there is every reason to believe that October baseball will be played in Flushing for the first time since 2006 when the team came one win away from reaching the World Series.
There are very encouraging signs as to what is going on. During this five game winning streak, the first for New York since 2013, they are getting hits at the right time, showing timely defense on the field, getting respectable starting pitching and the bullpen is not getting touched for runs in the late innings.
All the signs of a winning team in April and something that was not a regular occurrence last year. They are also resilient and doing it without the captain David Wright in the lineup who will be out at least two weeks with a strained right hamstring.
These are the games in April that you win. Because in September, if indeed there is pennant chase baseball being played, the April wins are significant compared to the losing that can come back and haunt you.
“I do believe there is a sense in that clubhouse that they can win,” Collins said. “They talk about it on the bench.” The talk is about winning baseball and moving the runners over, and that has been happening in the early going. It also helps that his team is winning teams in April against teams in their division that they have to beat.
Michael Cuddyer had a pair of runs batted in and has six in the last eight games. He was the key acquisition for the lineup and so far there are no complaints. Curtis Granderson ended a Marlins rally in the sixth and made a catch in right-field at the fence that stranded three on base. In essence, a play that shows the Mets will do what they have to do to win in April. Granderson went hitless, but drew another walk, his 11th that leads baseball, and he continues to get on base.
“Overall, great job, team win,”said Lucas Duda. He has a pair of extra base hits in three straight games, the first Mets player to do that since Carlos Beltran in 2006. And Duda is now a legitimate hitter when it comes to hitting the left-hander on the mound. He has five doubles, a home run and six RBI over his last three games. One other important aspect to Duda is getting hits against the shift.
All encouraging signs for a Mets team that believes they will be there in October, and there is every reason to believe that is possible.
“It’s real early but I like it a lot,” Collins said. “I would say a year ago we don’t win this game. We are not killing the ball but we are putting together some bats getting two base on balls and ended up scoring the two big runs we needed to win, In the case of Lucas, (Duda) he is just wants to put the ball in play. He is not worrying about putting the ball out of the ballpark but to just get on base.”
Duda had that good at bat in the Mets two-run seventh inning that led to a run. Cuddyer had a single that also scored Granderson. They are not scoring in bunches but those good at bats are leading to runs that are producing wins in April.
They are good at bats for Duda and Granderson, and that all adds up to getting on base and for the Mets to score runs. Last season scoring runs became a task and guys were trying to pull the ball too much. The new hitting coach, Kevin Long who came from the other side of town in the Bronx, where he had the same role with the Yankees, may be responsible for the new approaches at the plate, though the manager would also give some credit to the former hitting coach Dave Hudgens.
Wilmer Flores is getting the opportunity at shortstop. It has been a struggle but his first home run of the season, a game tying three-run shot to left-center with no outs, was also encouraging.
“It’s big,” Flores said about the cutter he hit that led to the home run. He got a great reaction in the dugout from his teammates. “It helped,” he said about the confidence to become a contributor with this winning streak in April. He said it will also be a confidence builder for the next game Friday night.
And there is that bullpen, something that has become a part of this winning in April. When starter Dillon Gee was lifted after 5.2 innings, including putting the Mets behind the first time 3-0, throwing two home run balls in the first and fourth innings, Rafael Montero, Jerry Blevins, Carlos Torres and Jeurys Familia threw scoreless ball.
Familia notched his fourth save. Before that, Torres in for Blevins, surrendered a double to Giancarlo Stanton to left. He then got Martin Prado to ground out and got consecutive strikeouts using the cutter to end the inning.
“It’s more what we are doing as a team,” Torres said. In six games, Torres has not allowed a run in 4.2 innings. “Today we were up and down and up. It’s attributed to this team. There were plenty of games last year where we fought. I can’t really pinpoint one thing,” he said about winning these types of games in April.
But what can be determined is the Mets are winning games in April. Yes it’s early but there is a confidence that this can continue and winning games now can only help the cause when it really matters in September and early October.
NOTE: After the game the Mets recalled 26-year old infielder Brandon Nuno from Triple-A Las Vegas where he was hitting .211 in 22 at bats. Nuno had an outstanding spring and it is expected a pitcher will be sent down. The move provides the Mets with a five man bench and it makes sense with an infielder short with Wright on the disabled list…
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