And after sweeping three games from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Mets find themselves in the hunt. They will resume play Friday night in St. Louis two games behind the division leading Nationals and a game behind the Chicago Cubs for a second wild card spot in the National League.
Is it possible that there will be a second half of expectations? After all the Mets who got off to a 13-3 start are five games better than they were at the break last year, 47-42, and with their 5-3 win, their fourth straight, finished the first half winning seven of their last nine.
However there are 70 games remaining and still holes to fill for a team that dwells on good pitching, but in the National League they are next to last in runs scored
“We’ve still got 70 games to play,” manager Terry Collins said. “At the break to be over .500, yeah, that’s a nice accomplishment. It’s certainly not the end-all. We’re a little frustrated we’re not more over .500. All We’ve got to do is continue to play and grind this out.”
And the Mets did grind it out in the first half, in particular overcoming injuries that put their captain, and perhaps their best hitter David Wright on the disabled list with a spinal disorder. Their bullpen at one point was decimated with some key injuries, and the young arms that are so much a part of this moving forward continued to grow each and every time they took the mound.
But it has been that starting pitching that has overcome the lack of hitting and run production, a 1.56 ERA in their last 16-games going back to June 25th and as a staff are sixth in the majors with a 3.41 ERA. They will continue to need that effort when they start a grueling second half with games against the Cardinals, Dodgers and Nationals, all by the way leading their respective divisions.
Collins made reference to coming out of the break against those division leaders. And he is aware that his lineup, that tied a franchise record with nine home runs in the past three games, will need to continue that production.
And getting production from the unexpected, as Kirk Nieuwenhuis did with three home runs Sunday, will also make the Mets better than expected. Though Nieuwenhuis, who got a reprieve when he was re-signed by the Mets last month, is not expected to duplicate a club record he established by becoming the first Met to hit three home runs in a home game.
Regardless, the unexpected is something in baseball that any manager or player will take. Even the position the Mets are in at the midpoint is something they will take, because they went 34-39 after that good start and that 11-game winning streak had the skeptics talking that they would be around in September.
“If anyone told us we would be here at the all-star break, we’d all sign up for it,” Michael Cuddyer said. And despite Cuddyer not living up to expectations, and with the home run bat of Lucas Duda not driving balls out of the ballpark in the first half, that led to more frustration.
Collins said, about the two key cogs in the lineup, as to how important Duda and Cuddyer are to the run production, “If we do that, get Lucas and Mike swinging, I think it will be a real exciting second half.”
The important statistic, again in baseball standards this holds significance, when scoring four or more runs the Mets are 34-5. And they scored all their runs in the three games against the Diamondbacks with the home run ball.
“Keep working and concentrate and finish strong,” said Ruben Tejada about the second half expectations. Tejada, now playing everyday at shortstop, is also that important element for this team to sustain any momentum coming out of the break. And with Wilmer Flores more comfortable at second, the duo have become a nice infield combination.
As is the bullpen, now that Jeurys Familia is comfortable as the closer. He picked up his 27th save of the season and entered the game tied for third most in the majors, allowing two earned runs in his last 24.0 innings.
“Wish we had four more games,” said Carlos Torres about the break. The righthander in the first half once again became reliable and in the past month has become more of a specialist as the bullpen was reinforced with the return of Bobby Parnell.
“All it is is executing,” he said. “We are executing on defense, I hope we come back as hot as we have been. It’s an important series against the Nationals.” That series is on the road where the Mets have not been as good. They completed the first half with a 32-14 record at Citi Field. and a majority of their remaining games are away from home.
But the manager is optimistic as is a team that had some tense moments before this series with Arizona because runs were hard to get. The Mets were tested and showed some resilience, and that may have been attributed to that pitching staff of youngsters. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard had superb outings the past week, as did a revived Jonathon Niese who tossed 6,2 innings Sunday and got the win. Niese, more importantly is no longer a subject of trade talk as the rookie Steven Matz is sidelined with a torn lat muscle.
Said Collins, “You know what? When we come out of the break, we’re going to be in the hunt. That’s all we can ask for.” And if the Mets provide interesting baseball, with or without bringing in some added punch to the lineup via a trade, being in the hunt is a major step.
Time will tell if the momentum going out of the first half will continue and be enough to get them into September with something to play for.
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