The Mets lost the second game of the day-night doubleheader last night by the final score of 4-2, preventing them from completing a four-game sweep over the Colorado Rockies. Despite the loss, they still took three out of four games in the series, which was crucial as the Rockies are one of the teams the Mets are pursuing for the National League Wild Card berth. Even though they recently won five straight, some people remain skeptical about the Mets’ chances to win the Wild Card. It wasn’t too long ago that another team was sloshing their way through the season, an afterthought when the Wild Card standings were posted. Remember the 2007 Rockies? The Mets sure do.
While the Mets were focusing on the Phillies in the National League East race in 2007, the Rockies kept passing everyone in the Wild Card race. The Wild Card was never an option for the Mets until the Phillies knocked them out of first place. By then, the Rockies and Padres had both compiled a better record than the Mets and they ended up in third place in the Wild Card standings.
The Mets now stand at 49-52. Seven teams stand between the Mets and the top of the Wild Card leader board. However, the Mets are within 2½ games of three of those teams. The 2007 Rockies were 51-50 at the same point of the season. In fact, as late as August 23, Colorado still had five teams ahead of them in the standings and on September 1, they were six games out of the Wild Card lead. No one expected them to make any noise in September, but they did just that. After September 1, they went 21-7 to take the National League Wild Card spot and continued their hot streak all the way to the World Series.
The Rockies were always a good hitting team, but their pitching and defense were a different story. Then they went on a roll in September because their pitching came together to put together a lengthy stretch of quality performances and their defense became as close to perfect as possible. The Rockies committed only seven errors in the 28 games after September 1. In fact, the Rockies set a major league record in 2007 with their .98925 fielding percentage, just barely erasing the 2006 Boston Red Sox from the record books (.98910 fielding percentage). Who held the old National League fielding percentage record? The team with the best infield defense ever; the 1999 New York Mets (.98875 fielding percentage). If I remember correctly, that team also won the National League Wild Card berth. Are we beginning to see a connection?
The 2009 Mets have been criticized by many for their lack of big bats and inconsistent pitching. They also played subpar defense in the first half of the season. Now the Mets have won five of their last six games and are making some noise in the Wild Card standings. Over the past 17 games, the Mets have given up three runs or less 10 times. Over the same stretch, they have made only seven errors.
Daniel Murphy has settled in nicely at first base after looking foolish in left field. Luis Castillo has recovered since juggling a win away at Yankee Stadium. Other guys filling in for injured players (Alex Cora, Angel Pagan, Cory Sullivan) have been consistenly good in the field. No one is embarrassing the team defensively. Here’s one way to know that a team is playing solid defense. When was the last time we saw Jerry Manuel bring in a defensive replacement in the late innings to help preserve a victory? He doesn’t need to because the players have settled in well at their positions.
Sometimes, the schedule maker also plays a role in a team’s Wild Card chances. Starting with tonight’s game, 11 of the next 13 games are against the Diamondbacks and Padres. Those two teams are a combined 35 games under .500 (85-120). That’ll be the first opportunity to pass a few teams ahead of them. They also won’t have to do as much scoreboard watching as you would expect, as the teams ahead of the Mets in the standings are coming to them. After their two-week Diamondback/Padre diet ends, the Mets will play 34 of their final 47 games against teams that are currently ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. This includes a stretch from late August to early September where they play 15 consecutive games against said teams. The pessimist will say this is where the Mets will come back to earth. The optimist (that would be me) will say that the Mets’ recent resurgence has been against the Astros and Rockies, two teams that the Mets are currently chasing. They’re building confidence by beating these supposedly better teams that they can use in their favor when they play the other teams ahead of them in the Wild Card chase.
It’s time to break out the Magic 8-Ball again. I took it out earlier this season to see if Omar Minaya would make some trades. Now let’s ask it if the Mets have a chance to win the Wild Card. Magic 8-Ball, based on the arguments I’ve presented today, what do you say about the possibilities of a Wild Card in the Mets’ future?
Now you know why I like to bring out the Magic 8-ball occasionally. It always seems to give me answers I can smile about.
Are the Mets getting consistently good pitching? Check. Are they playing good defense? Check. Are they winning? Check. If teams won championships with their hitting being the main weapon, the Texas Rangers would have had a dynasty by now and the Yankees would have won more championships since 2000 than the zero they currently have since that year. Sure, hitting helps, but it doesn’t win championships on its own. When a team has hitting in conjunction with good pitching and stellar defense, that team can boast having something truly special. The Mets might have something truly special when Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado return to the lineup to help the guys who have already begun to hit, second game of the doubleheader notwithstanding. They’re already getting better pitching and defense. If they can keep that going when the core hitters come back, the Mets might be passing quite a few teams on the Wild Card Expressway. Honk, honk! We’re coming through!