The All-Star Game isn’t until tomorrow, but my thoughts have already turned to the post-Break schedule for the Mets. The Mets are one of nine teams in the hotly contested National League playoff race. The other eight teams are either leading their respective divisions, leading the Wild Card race or within two games of the Wild Card leader. The Mets will play six of those eight teams between July 15 (the first game after the Break) and August 15. That one-month stretch of games will go a long way towards determining whether the Mets are pretenders or contenders in the National League.
Let’s take a look at the schedule and break down the upcoming month of games for the Mets:
July 15-18: 4 games at San Francisco (playoff contender)
July 19-21: 3 games at Arizona
July 22-25: 4 games at Los Angeles (Wild Card co-leader)
July 27-29: 3 games vs. St. Louis (playoff contender)
July 30-Aug. 1: 3 games vs. Arizona
Aug. 2-4: 3 games at Atlanta (best record in the NL)
Aug. 6-8: 3 games at Philadelphia (playoff contender)
Aug. 10-12: 3 games vs. Colorado (Wild Card co-leader)
Aug. 13-15: 3 games vs. Philadelphia (playoff contender)
The Mets begin their second half schedule with their longest road trip of the year, an 11-game jaunt through California and Arizona. The series in Arizona must be looked at similar to their two series against Baltimore and Cleveland last month. The Mets were doing poorly on the road before those series but they didn’t play down to the level of their competition. They won all six games against the Orioles and Indians and gained ground in the playoff race.
Likewise, the upcoming series in Arizona, sandwiched between two series against playoff contenders, must be gone into with a sense of “we’re better than you and we’re going to prove it”. Although winning two out of three on the road is usually considered a success, I believe the Mets can and should take all three games in Arizona. The Diamondbacks have nothing to play for in the NL West, other than to showcase some talent that may be used in deals at the trading deadline. The Mets have won 16 of their last 19 games played in Arizona going back to 2004. They can’t settle for anything less than a sweep.
Meanwhile, the two series wrapped around the Diamondbacks series are a little tougher to look at. The Giants have been hot of late, winning six of their last seven games going into the All-Star Break. Of course, those games were against the Brewers and Nationals, two teams with a combined record of 79-99. However, the Giants have held their own against the NL East this year, going 12-6 against them, despite losing two out of three to the Mets at Citi Field back in May. The Giants are 25-17 at AT&T Park this season, but the Mets have Carlos Beltran coming back for this series. His return will not only boost the lineup, it could also give them a sense of completeness that they haven’t felt in quite some time (assuming Jose Reyes is ready to play). For now, I will accept a split of the four-game series, but I’m really hoping for three out of four.
Will the real Los Angeles Dodgers please stand up? Are they the team that went into Citi Field back in April and got swept by the Mets in a series that included John Maine’s sole victory of the season? Are they the team that blistered their way through the National League in May and June, going 23-7 over a 30-game stretch to temporarily take over the division lead from the Padres? Or are they the mediocre team we’ve seen since then, winning series against non-contending teams (Diamondbacks, Marlins, Cubs), while losing series to playoff contenders (Red Sox, Angels, Yankees)? The Mets have to take the Dodgers seriously even though they’ve been more streaky and slumpy this year than Jeff Francoeur. To add to the confusion, the Dodgers are great at home (28-18), but horrible against the NL East (5-11). It’s a tough call, but I think the Mets will split the four games in LA, which makes sense considering the split personality the Dodgers seem to have this year.
From there, the Mets will come back home to the friendly confines of Citi Field. They will face the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks. Again, the only option with Arizona is a sweep, especially at home. Anything less than three victories would be unacceptable. The series with Arizona will coincide with the trading deadline, so it’ll be interesting to see where the Mets are in the standings during this series and who they end up acquiring, if they acquire anyone at all.
For the series against the Cardinals, it’ll all boil down to pitching. The Cardinals have a great one-two punch in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, while the Mets currently have one great puncher in Johan Santana. However, the Cardinals are just as poor on the road as the Mets are and they will be the road team in this series. I’m hoping the Mets can take two out of three in this series, but wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals’ pitching holds the Mets to just one win in the series similar to the way the Braves’ pitching did this past weekend.
Speaking of the Braves, following their short homestand against St. Louis and Arizona, the Mets take their show on the road to face their hated division rivals in Atlanta and Philadelphia. That road trip could make or break this team more than the 11-game trip after the All-Star Break could. The Mets know that losing both of these series could drop them back into third place in the division (a place where they might be already if they don’t get off to a quick start after the Break). They will need to split these six games at the very least. Losing a minimum of four games on this road trip could prove devastating.
Finally, this tough stretch of games ends with a six-game homestand against the Rockies and Phillies. The Rockies are doing what the Rockies do best, and that is going on a run that takes them from the bottom of the division to the top of the Wild Card race. A month ago, the Rockies were a .500 team, sitting in fourth place because the Diamondbacks had a no vacancy sign in last place. Since then, they have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, going 19-9 and moving into a tie with the Dodgers for the Wild Card lead, after the Mets had held the Wild Card lead for weeks. In their month-long run to the top, they have won series from contenders like the Red Sox, Giants and Padres (twice) and swept the Cardinals. The Rockies will not be a pushover, even with the series taking place at Citi Field, especially if the Mets have to face Cy Young Award favorite Ubaldo Jimenez, who may be closing in on 20 wins by the time the Rockies travel to New York. I’ll be cautiously optimistic when I say that the Mets will win two out of three against the Rockies, but will be prepared for them to lose two out of three.
As for the Phillies, they will certainly have their last series at Citi Field on their minds when they return to New York. In what might have been the highlight of the Mets’ season so far, the Phillies came into New York and left with nothing, as in no runs on the scoreboard. The three-game shutout of the Phillies gave the Mets hope and has given fuel to their post-season push, but to expect something like that again would be ridiculous. Even to expect another three-game sweep might be too much. The Phillies just swept a four-game series from the NL Central division leading Reds, the same team that came into Citi Field and took two out of three from the Mets last week. Despite the injuries that have wiped out most of their infield, the Phillies have remained in contention all year and will continue to do so. Just like the series with the Rockies, I’ll say I want the Mets to win two out of three, but will not be surprised if they lose two out of three. I’m expecting a split of the six-game homestand with the Rockies and the Phillies.
The Mets will begin their post-Break schedule by playing 29 games against mostly contending teams. Having a losing record over that stretch would surely damage their post-season chances. Using all my fingers and toes, I have tallied up the wins and losses I expect from the Mets over this month-long stretch of games following the All-Star Break. My caveman math has given the Mets an 18-11 record over that stretch, which of course, includes six wins in six games over the Diamondbacks. Failure to sweep both series against Arizona would change things drastically, but I have confidence in the Mets that they can pull it off. Of course, that means I’m also saying that the Mets will barely have a winning record against all the other teams they play during this tough stretch of games.
Getting Carlos Beltran back into the lineup on Thursday, along with the return of Jose Reyes will make the offense whole again. Hopefully, this will prevent many extended periods where the Mets go into a hitting slump (like during the just-completed 2-4 homestand). The combination of the upgraded offense, Johan Santana’s resurgence and perhaps a little help at the trading deadline (if it is a starting pitcher, Omar Minaya can’t just acquire him just to make an acquisition. He has to be someone who will improve the rotation immediately. Please, no more Victor Zambrano-like deals!) can help the Mets approach the 18-11 post-Break record I’m calling for them to have.
After that 29-game stretch, the Mets will spend the next two weeks playing Houston, Pittsburgh, Florida and Houston again. All three teams have fallen out of contention in the National League. All four series are winnable series. The Mets should feast on these teams, but of course, feasting on paper and feasting on the field are two different things.
It’s time to put up or shut up for the Mets after the All-Star Break. The next month’s schedule is going to tell us a lot about this team. Either things could spiral out of control or we’ll prove we belong to be mentioned with the big boys of the National League. Get ready for the second half of the season. Regardless of what happens, it’s sure to be one fun ride!