There is no denying that after the thrills of the 2015 season, 2016 has been a letdown for the Mets. The Nationals have taken complete control of the NL East, leaving the Mets to fight it out for one of the two Wild Card spots. The loser between the Dodgers and Giants for the NL West is in excellent position to nab the top Wild Card with ease. The Mets though are only a few games over .500, and that seems to be their true talent level, as their Pythagorean record is identical.
Fortunately, the Mets remain quite involved in the playoff hunt. Entering the off-day on Monday, they were only two games behind the Marlins for a Wild Card spot. It’s a tight race however, as three other teams find themselves within at least four games of the Marlins. The Cardinals are just ahead of the Mets, and the Pirates and Rockies are both nipping at their heels.
The Mets have an ace in the hole, and while it’s not quite Matt Harvey recovering from surgery with Wolverine-like speed, it’s a help. Terry Collins’ crew has the weakest remaining schedule of any Wild Card contender. Sure, there will be some tense series with the Nationals and Marlins ahead, but for the most part, their last two months will feature games against some really bad times. Most notably, they play the free-falling Phillies and cellar-dwelling Braves a combined 16 times over their final 51 games.
While the other Wild Card contenders have their share of weak competition as well, none have it as good as the Mets. The Baseball Prospectus remainder of season projections suggest that the Mets will have the best record of any of their Wild Card opponents, too. Here’s how the teams shake up:
|*RSoS = Remaining strength of schedule
The Mets might be two games back, but for the rest of the way, their opponents presently only have a combined .473 winning percentage. Of the five Wild Card contenders, the Mets are the only ones projected to play at least two games over .500. In fact, three of them should play under .500.
So the road ahead is in the Mets’ favor, and the difference in quality of play will only grow more apparent as the season winds down. The Mets have 25 games after Labor Day, and just six of them will be against good teams (the Nationals and Marlins). Following an off-day on September 15, the Mets have a 10-game homestand to wrap up the regular season at Citi Field. The teams they face will be the Braves, the Phillies, and the worst team in the American League, the Twins. That lineup of teams is about as cozy as imaginable in 2016.
A pivotal three-game series in Miami follows that, but then the Mets will finish the regular season with three games in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Marlins will have to contend with the Nationals while the Cardinals and Pirates duke it out between each other. The Rockies merely play the Brewers, but they have the toughest remaining schedule of all five Wild Card contenders, and they should be out of the mix by then anyway. It’s possible that Dusty Baker takes it easy and rests some starters against the Marlins, but they will still be at least somewhat competitive.
Obviously, the path is not this simple, as the Mets have to actually play the games. There are reasons why the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds still project the Cardinals to capture that last Wild Card spot, after all. As of Monday, they were 40.9 percent likely to make it compared to the 40.1 percent and 34.6 percent odds of the Marlins and Mets, respectively. (The Pirates and Rockies were way behind at 6.2 percent and 3.9 percent each.)
It’s not even a guarantee that the Mets take advantage of all those games against the Braves and Phillies either. So far in 2016, they have gone a combined 12-10 against them—a winning record, but just barely. They should be beating them more easily, and their failure to do so has been partially responsible for their current situation.
Nonetheless, the overall schedule ahead favors the Mets. The question is simply whether they will accept this gift or waste it.
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