So, the Mets aren’t dead yet. I, for one, was too quick to give the 2016 team its last rites before prematurely shoveling them onto the wheelbarrow of the departed. The Mets have now won 12 of their last 16 games, and they sit one game behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot and just 1.5 behind the Giants for the first. They’re no longer behind the Marlins. Not only that, but the Mets play just one more series against a team currently above .500, a three game set against in Washington against a team that is only playing for the number two seed in the National League. To boot, they have a 10-game homestand against the Twins, Braves, and Phillies, who have a combined record of 166-247. More than anyone else, the Mets are the agents of their playoff fortunes, and they are set-up nicely to succeed. And yet, they still need other teams to lose, namely the Cardinals and Giants. There are a few teams Mets fans, and the Mets themselves, will be cheering for more than usual in September.
Even when it benefits a team you want to win, it can be hard to muster the energy to cheer for someone else. Luckily for Mets fans, neither of the teams the Mets need to lose are in the NL East, so there’s no need to go through the indignity of cheering for the Phillies. Heavy intra-division September scheduling means that support will go to NL Central and West teams.
Let’s start with the Giants. Nineteen of the Giants’ final 26 games will come against the Dodgers, Padres, and Rockies. They have a home and away series against each of those teams.The Giants play the Dodgers six times, in Los Angeles September 19-21 and in San Francisco September 30-October 2. The Giants are three games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, so these should be competitive games. It’s also notable that Clayton Kershaw will be making his return to the team soon, so there’s a chance the Giants will have to face the best pitcher alive in two of those six games. Even if the Dodgers wrap up the division by the final series of the year, they might have a reason to pitch Kershaw as he readjusts to a normal workload.
The last-place Padres should give the Giants a breather. They play each other in San Francisco from September 12-14 and in San Diego September 23-25. So: go Dodgers; go Padres.
The Cardinals play just two teams multiple times, the Pirates and the Cubs. They wrap up a three game set against Pittsburgh tomorrow, and they will finish the season at home against the Pirates for a three-game series. These shouldn’t be easy series. One of the hidden caveats of the article you’re reading right now is that the Pirates are just a couple games behind the Mets in the Wild Card race. As long as the Mets stay ahead of the Pirates, and they will as long as the Mets continue winning against teams under .500, then cheering for the Pirates is well and good.
The Cards also play three at home (September 12-14) and three on the road (September 23-25) against the major-league best Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, the Cubs won’t have much to play for at this point, other than pursuing the best record in the National League. But a mild-effort Cubs team is still pretty good. Go Pirates; go Cubs.
There are two more wrinkles to pay attention to. First, the Cardinals play the Giants in San Francisco for a four game series from September 15 through September 18. The first reaction is to wish that they can both lose, but some quick research reveals that it’s not possible for them to both lose. One way to approach this series is to hope for a split. If they can’t both lose, cheer for neither to win the series. The Wild Card standings might also look different in ten days. By that time, it might be prudent to hope for one or the other team to land a deathblow for the Mets.
One final thing: I didn’t mention the Giants’ two series against the Rockies. They’re currently playing three against them in Denver, and they have a three-game set from September 27-29 in San Francisco. Notably, the Cardinals also play the Rockies. They’ll visit Coors Field from September 19-21. They’re the only team that plays both the Giants and Cardinals from now until the end of the season.
The Rockies aren’t contenders, but they’re also not as bad as you might think. The Rockies are 65-71, but Baseball Prospectus’ third order winning percentage is .518. Not only that, but they are 40-41 with a plus-31 run differential against teams above .500 in 2016. The Rockies play one or the other eight more times, and five of them are at Coors Field. So, go Rockies.
Photo credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports