Tonight the Mets return to Citi Field, banged up and bruised, but still only a game and a half behind the first place Phillies. Their next 13 games are to be played exclusively against the Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates. These opponents have a combined record of 53-79. The Mets must take advantage of this opportunity so that the next time the Phillies come to Citi Field on June 9, it’ll be them looking up at the Mets in the standings and not vice versa.
We’re all aware that the Marlins have defeated the Mets each of the last two season finales to quell their playoff hopes. But it’s been the Nationals who have given the Mets fits in September, causing those season finales to be more meaningful than they should have been. Over the past two seasons, the Mets are a combined 3-7 against Washington after that notorious “17 games left in the season” point. Just splitting those ten games could have put the Mets in the playoffs in one of those seasons, and perhaps both years. The Mets must not take the Nationals lightly. Winning these games in May could take some pressure of the team in September. The Mets must not go into September saying “what if we had beaten the Nats in those games in May?”
Regardless of the makeshift lineup put together by Jerry Manuel in this series, the Mets should be able to handle the Nats. I say “should” because these Mets have been making too many mistakes on the basepaths and far too many errors in the field. As long as they can keep the mental and physical errors down to a minimum, they shouldn’t have any problem defeating the 13-30 Nationals. After all, these Nats are playing so poorly that last year’s Nats would be itching to play them.
Following the Nationals series, the Marlins will be coming to Citi Field. These are clearly not the same Marlins that took two out of three from the Mets during the first week of the season. That Marlins team had everything clicking at once. Their young pitching staff was complementing their strong hitting perfectly and they stormed out of the gate to an 11-1 record. Where have the Fish gone since then? They’ve been swimming in the opposite direction to the tune of a 9-24 record. If not for the lowly Nationals, the Marlins would be bringing up the rear in the NL East.
After the Marlins, the next course to be served on the Mets’ plate will be the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have the best record of the trio at 20-24. Although they have been playing better of late, the Mets had no trouble handling them at Citi Field earlier this month, sweeping them in a three-game series. PNC Park has been a difficult park for the Mets to play in over the past few seasons, so if the Mets are going to lose or split a series in this 13-game stretch, it could be this one. Fortunately, Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey are scheduled to pitch in this series, so the series remains winnable.
The two-week period of opponents with losing records ends with a series in Washington. Don’t expect the Nationals to be any better then than they are now.
If the Mets can play fundamentally solid baseball, there’s no reason to believe that they can’t win nine or ten of these 13 games. During this two-week stretch, the Phillies will be going out west to face the Padres (with Jake Peavy scheduled to pitch one of the games) for three games and the Dodgers for four. After their West Coast trek, they close out their road trip with three games at Citi Field. The Mets have a great opportunity to be in first place by the time the Phillies make their cross-country trip to New York. They must not look past their supposedly inferior opponents, but at the same time, they should take full advantage of their light schedule. It all starts tonight. Let’s get it done!