The Mets, a team decimated by injuries this year, have managed to remain very much in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs.
David Wright. Matt Harvey. Jacob deGrom. Zach Wheeler. Steven Matz. Neil Walker. Lucas Duda.
These are all players who were expected to play major roles in 2016 for the Mets. Wright, Harvey, Walker, Wheeler, and deGrom will all watch the remainder of this season from the sidelines. Duda is back, having returned to the field just this past weekend for the first time on over four months. The team’s still holding their breath on Matz.
How have the Mets have managed to make it to the top of the National League Wild Card race without so much of the projected core for this year’s team?
They’re not exactly doing this through smoke and mirrors.
To understand the 2016 New York Mets is to watch a 162-game tutorial of how a group of individuals were brought together, through adversity, and formed a team.
The saying goes ‘when one goes down, it’s the next one up’. This has been the Mets’ battle cry for most of this year.
Where the stars and the key players have gone down, the role players have stepped up. When some of the role players have gone down, it’s been a handful of unknowns which have stepped onto the big stage without fear and kept the team’s playoff push relevant.
Among those names is T.J. Rivera, a 27-year old rookie infielder. All Rivera’s done this year, every time he’s been called up from the Minor Leagues, is hit and field.
What’s not to admire about a player like T.J. Rivera?
Every leader of a team wants to have players who come in, do their job to the best of their abilities, and always be ready whenever their number is called. These traits fit Rivera like a glove.
Rivera, along with Jose Reyes, Kelly Johnson and Wilmer Flores, have helped the Mets offset the damage caused from losing nearly seventy-five percent of their infield at various points throughout this season.
Rivera doesn’t just have at-bats, he has good ones. The type of at-bats which a veteran gets praised for, not a rookie who’s never been asked to do so much in such a small amount of time with so much on the line.
It was Rivera’s home run, his second of the season, which proved to be the difference-maker for the Mets in their 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins Sunday at Citi Field.
“I don’t think there’s any question he can play here,”Collins said after the game. “His swing plays here, he’s got bat speed, he’s got some power. I truly believe in overachievers, I think he’s one of those guys.”
Through six seasons in the Minor Leagues, all Rivera did was hit the baseball. Now he’s doing the same on the Major-League Level and it’s beginning to open eyes towards the possibility that he’s a keeper.
“He’s got great confidence in what he can do, and that’s put the barrel on the ball, Collins continued. ” he’s always done it. Everybody that’s ever had him talks about it, and he’s doing it here. You’ve got to have guys when they get the opportunity come through. T.J. Rivera is an example.”
Opposing teams eventually will figure out a way to cool off Rivera and his .344 batting average, he’ll then have to show he can make the necessary adjustments required to sustain a Major-League career.
The body of work for Rivera on this level is still small, however his approach to the game speaks towards the time he’s spent seasoning his game in the minors. It’s that even-keeled mindset which ultimately will help him secure permanent residency on a Major-League roster.
In the meanwhile, Rivera, along with fellow rookies Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Gabriel Ynoa must continue the Mets’ next man up battle cry because the finish line is definitely within reach for the National League Wild Card leaders.
It is players, like Rivera, who are keeping the Mets in the hunt for October. If you want to know how this team’s doing it, don’t look for any smoke or mirrors, look instead at players like T.J. Rivera.