Mets fans are not exactly known for being passive when it comes to our team. Just about every game over the marathon of a season is discussed, analyzed and scurtinized like its Game 7 of the World Series. That pressure is amplified when the Mets are in the final days of a tight playoff race.
Most of this season was no different for me. The team entered with huge expectations, which made every game feel almost like a must-win situation, similar to the NFL. For the majority of the season the Mets were a major disappointment – a roster full of big names that severely underachieved. In a way, the mediocre team we watched all summer long was less enjoyable than the many flat-out bad Mets teams we have seen, given our high hopes.
Everything changed when the Mets were hit with a seemingly never-ending string of significant injuries to key players. Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz joined Matt Harvey on the shelf of injured young star pitchers, turning the Mets’ other-worldly starting rotation into a glorified Triple-A staff.
Then throw in losing starting second baseman Neil Walker’s season ending injury, as well as huge chunks of time missed by key role players Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores (not to mention Lucas Duda), and the Mets quickly turned from a major disappointment into a scrappy underdog facing an uphill battle.
Now, the likes of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Gabriel Ynoa – or “Generation Who?,” as I like to call them – are starting critical games for a contending team. And they’re winning! Hitters like Eric Campbell, Ty Kelly and Alejandro De Aza – none of whom have done anything to deserve playing time on even a last-place team – are suddenly being called upon to hit in important situations. And they’re hitting!
Because of this, the pressure has been alleviated, as least a bit, even during a tight playoff race. In turn, the Mets have become easier and more entertaining to watch than the one full of stars that was disappointing us for most of the summer. It’s no longer a complete shocker when Mets’ pitchers give up 5 or 7 or 10 runs, but it’s especially cool when a no-name like Gsellman fires seven shutout innings, or a journeyman like Eric Campbell gets a huge pinch-hit.
The last few games will be as nerve-racking as ever, and a final weekend “collapse” with this group would still be difficult to handle. But the Mets, who were written off by almost everyone a month ago, are basically playing with house money. If they are able to reach the Wild Card game, win that showdown, and face the much more talented Cubs in the NLDS, that will especially be the case.
It’s a rare opportunity to watch a team, particularly one from New York, play October baseball without that signature “championship or bust” mentality. Of course we’ll all still be on the edge of our seats for each remaining game, rooting hard for the ride to continue. But anyone taking an objective look at this current roster, particularly the rag-tag pitching staff, would have to render the Mets underdogs against the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals. The 2016 Mets have gone from under-performers to overachievers in just a few weeks, and it’s been fun to watch.