MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals

The NL Won’t Let The Mets Fade Away

It was not long ago that the Mets looked like a complete mess. They were under .500, falling fast in late August, and any hopes of a return to the postseason (let alone the World Series) seemed laughable. By most accounts, they should be clearing their golf schedules for October.

However, the National League has allowed them to remain competitive, and not in the purely mathematical manner of the Braves. Until August 20, the Mets had a dismal 6-12 record in the month and had just lost four out of five to the woeful Diamondbacks and the slumping Giants. The Wild Card picture was not a pretty sight:

NL Wild Card standings (end of play, 8/19/16)
LA Dodgers 67 54 .554 +2
St. Louis 65 56 .537 -
Pittsburgh 62 57 .521 2
Miami 63 59 .516 2.5
NY Mets 60 62 .492 5.5
Colorado 59 63 .484 6.5

The Mets were five and a half games behind the Cardinals for just the second playoff spot, and they were closer to the 57-66 Phillies than St. Louis. Fans were understandably frustrated, particularly given the team’s action at the trade deadline.

To their credit though, the team has turned it around quickly in essentially a week’s worth of action. They won the last games of their four-game set in San Francisco to split that series, stole a road series victory from the Cardinals in St. Louis, and also dispatched the Phillies two out of three upon returning home this past weekend. The Mets’ 7-2 record in the small sample of nine games since the start of play on August 20 is the best in the NL.

The Mets have made up a full three games in the Wild Card standings, as their Wild Card competitors mostly struggled to hold them back. Last night, the Marlins continued this trend by allowing a walk-off homer to Yoenis Cespedes that brought the two teams even, and the mix is as intriguing as ever:

NL Wild Card standings (end of play, 8/29/16)
San Francisco 71 59 .546 +2.5
St. Louis 69 61 .531 -
Pittsburgh 67 62 .519 1.5
Miami 67 64 .511 2.5
NY Mets 67 64 .511 2.5
Colorado 63 68 .481 6.5

Whatever slim hopes the Rockies might have had have faded, as they were unable to gain any ground at all. The Dodgers and Giants swapped places, which despite the likely presence of Madison Bumgarner in a one-game playoff, is probably to the Mets’ benefit anyway since the Giants have been awful since the beginning of July and could very well fall out of it. The Pirates are the only other team that has gained ground, and they might be without ace Gerrit Cole.

The Mets have been hot, but the NL has absolutely given them this fortuitous opportunity through their opponents’ ineptitude. A Wild Card team should be more than just a handful of games over .500, and yet St. Louis sits in the playoff picture despite a barely 86-win pace. So there is a real chance for the Mets to defy expectations and make it to the playoffs, no matter how bleak the outlook appeared just a little over a week ago.

Sometimes, that small crack in the door is all it takes. It was 43 years ago today that the Mets found themselves dead last in the NL East and 10 games under .500 at 61-71. They trailed the Cardinals by six and a half games and needed to leapfrog four other teams simply to move into second place.

Those were the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets of 1973. They shook off the struggles, played 21-8 ball down the stretch, and took advantage of all their rivals’ September swoons to steal the division title from St. Louis. It didn’t matter that they only had 82 wins. They were the division champions, and after shocking a 99-win “Big Red Machine” club in the NLCS, they took the Oakland A’s to Game 7 of the World Series in the middle of their “three-peat” dynasty.

Yogi Berra, the skipper of that ’73 Mets team, famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” However, he also said “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

That’s a Yogi-ism, but as with all of them, there is deeper meaning. The NL has granted the Mets this fork in the road. They can take it with a good final month, one that already features a light schedule. A frantic run to the Wild Card would be something remarkable, but then again, 2015 proved that these new Mets are no strangers to the remarkable.

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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