Schott: Mets Will Win the National League East

The Mets have shown that “next year” is finally here and they will win the National League East.

This team is primed for a run due to the amazing job General Manager Sandy Alderson made at the trade deadline, adding Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, and Kelly Johnson to the lineup and Tyler Clippard to the bullpen.

Their starting rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, and Jonathon Niese is arguably the best in the National League, and they have built the team around them.

There also is something that greatly separates them from the Nationals, and that is heart. The Mets have gutted games out all year, including the first two of the series, with Wilmer Flores getting the walk-off home run on Friday night, followed by Lucas Duda getting two home runs and the game-winning double in the eighth inning on Saturday night.

Mets Manager Terry Collins said on Sunday of the feeling around the team, “To put it into words, this is winning New York baseball. This is what you get. You get electricity in the ballpark. The fans are involved the entire game. I’ve been in pennant races for a long time, there’s a lot of games you go to where there’s nice crowds, you look up and the hot dog vendors are busy in the fifth inning because that’s when people go out. Not here, when the action’s going on, people are in their seats. They’re into the game here. There’s no other atmosphere that I’ve experienced compared to this, and the guys feel it. One of the things in the dugout, they say this is what you want to play in front of in September. When they’re talking about it, it’s means it’s being noticed.”

The Mets’ Flores and Nationals star Bryce Harper illustrate the contrast between the clubs. Harper took a called strike three in the 11th inning on Friday night and followed that up by arguing with the umpire, which greatly hurt his team and showed his immaturity.

Flores went through an emotionally draining night on Wednesday night with all the trade rumors and was seen crying on the field. After a day off Thursday, he was back at it Friday, delivering the walk-off homer. Flores, like the Mets, play it out until the end.

Something has been off all season about Washington, and it’s interesting to think whether it’s cause they just aren’t as good as they were projected to be, or if it is something deeper. Are they as tough as other perennial playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals? Do they have what it takes to pull games out late? Can they show a sense of urgency at any point this season before it’s too late? The answer to all three questions is a resounding no.

This ten-game homestand was pivotal for the Mets, as this is when recent seasons have taken a turn , including last year when the Giants took three out of four at Citi in early August and the Mets were never the same. The fact that the Mets not only survive it, but come out of it a lot stronger bodes very well for the last two months of the regular season.

The homestand began on July 23rd with Mets Manager Terry Collins sending out a lineup with John Mayberry, Jr. at cleanup, followed by Eric Campbell, with both hitting around .170. They went down listlessly to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, and after the game that night Collins sounded almost hopeless that Alderson was going to get anybody in here to help the lineup.

July 23rd turned out to be the turning point of the season, as Alderson finally got pushed to bring up top prospect Michael Conforto the next day, and bring in Uribe and Johnson from the Braves.

The impact was immediate the next day, as Lucas Duda hit two home runs in a 15-2 romp, which began a stretch in which he has hit nine home runs in eight games. In the finale that Sunday, Uribe got the winning hit to give them a split with the Braves.

The only blip on the homestand was the Padres series. After Syndergaard won the opener with a masterful outing, the Mets lost a tough one the next day, with Colon getting roughed up early, and the lone highlight being Duda’s three homers in that one. That night also had the sideshow of the Flores-for-Carlos Gomez trade rumors. That series ended on Thursday afternoon with the Padres pulling out the win on a Justin Upton three-run homer in the 9th after the Mets were just one out away from a win.

The Mets closed the homestand on Sunday with Cespedes hitting third, followed by Duda in the cleanup spot, possibly the toughest left-right combo in the National League. They also got starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud back on Friday night, and David Wright started baseball activities on Friday. In addition to that, Granderson is hitting as well as he has in his time with the Mets in the leadoff spot, up to 17 home runs, the latest coming on Sunday night.

Collins said of the Nationals taking the Mets more seriously now than earlier in the season, “Don’t underestimate them, they knew all along that we had a pretty good team. I’m not taking anything away from them, they’ve got an outstanding team and they have a track record that they win. When we saw them in spring training and they saw the pitching we had coming, they hadn’t seen Syndergaard really yet, they knew that we had a good team.”

In looking at how the Mets and Nationals stack up against the other five serious playoff contenders, the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Giants and Dodgers, the Mets will be a lot tougher out in the playoffs.

Let’s say hypothetically, the Mets win the division, and have the weakest record of the division winners, and the Cardinals have the top spot followed by the Dodgers. The Cardinals would get the winner of the wild card playoff, possibly a Giants-Pirates rematch, and the Mets would get the Dodgers.

The Mets won four of seven against the Dodgers, including two of three at Dodger Stadium. If the Mets get by them, and it’s the Cardinals, Giants, or Pirates in the NLCS, they have done decently against the Cards and Giants, and still have three games left against the Pirates, with the only time they faced them being a Pirates sweep out there.

It’s amazing to think that the five years that Alderson and Collins have put in has finally come to fruition, that this is it. You could feel the anticipation and the electricity in the stands Sunday night. This was the homestand the Mets have become a contender.

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