A seesaw battle that has been the 2016 New York Mets season can certainly be defined by one series in the late days of August.
If you were told a year ago today that the 2016 New York Mets’ postseason chances relied on a late August start from Jon Niese, you’d point and laugh.
Yet, here we are …
With only 38 games left in the regular season, the clock is ticking on this talented yet damaged group of baseballers to extend their season ever so slightly. At 62-62, the team sits 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League wild card spot.
Making up that kind of ground in the last month and a half of baseball will be no easy task. Still, these Mets are holding out hope that their final regular season contest — 37 games and 41 days from now — won’t be their last of 2016.
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That postseason push has to begin somewhere, which is why attaining the goal of a second consecutive postseason appearance starts and ends with this week’s three-game set against those wild card wielding Cards at Busch Stadium.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, New York will send Jon Niese, Jacob deGrom and (likely) Seth Lugo to the mound, respectively, each tasked with dominating a contact-driven St. Louis team that has found itself on a recent power surge in the midst of winning six of its last seven games.
The stakes are high. They’re as high as they’ve been since Game 5 of the 2015 World Series concluded. This series gives New York a chance to close the gap in the standings for the final playoff spot to a modest 1.5 games.
A St. Louis sweep would be nice, but what would this series be without its share of challenges and surprises? That’s New York baseball.
With that, the Mets are due to be without their hottest bat in August, Neil Walker, for the entire trip. Walker joined his wife in Pittsburgh as they anticipate the arrival of their newborn child.
But have no fear, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes are here. Both players rejoined the club this past week from the disabled list in full force, each playing their part in lifting the Mets’ deadweight to salvage a series split with the San Francisco Giants.
Lest we forget Steven Matz, initially penciled in as Thursday’s starter after taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of his last start, just landed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain.
And with that disheartening news comes hope, as fellow rookie southpaw Seth Lugo showed he’s no slouch either, compiling six-plus smooth sailing innings last Friday night in San Francisco.
Here’s the point: As much as everything has appeared to go wrong for the Mets this year, the team still has more than a fighting chance to make some noise in October.
With only 10 games remaining against the three teams ahead in the standings for the last playoff spot (three vs. St. Louis, seven vs. Miami, zero vs. Pittsburgh), the time is now to run off a win streak and make these remaining head-to-head matchups count.
Of course, until they’re mathematically eliminated, there is a chance — however slim — that New York earns their shot in the one-game wild card playoff.
But will they?
Ask me on Friday.