When it comes to climbing the standings and achieving baseball euphoria – reaching the postseason promised land – there always seems to be an unexpected factor.
Year in and year out, baseball’s pennant race always seems to feature a team playing at or around .500 – a team that is down but not quite out.
The New York Mets, sitting at 69-65 entering play Friday, very well could be that team. Despite their third-place standing in the National League wild card race, the Mets are in position to overtake an underwhelming pair of teams which collectively treads water ahead of them (the Cardinals and Pirates).
I said, position, people. Execution is a needed step, too.
If the Mets do capture lighting in a bottle and eke into October, that playoff magic won’t come without the unheralded, unseen but seeing (the sense of vision is essential to play baseball) X-factor.
The thing that will shock Mets’ fans is that the savior they seek was not a member of the team at the start of its current homestand.
He’s roved from Las Vegas to New York a few times this year.
He bats left-handed.
His 2016 season has compacted the ups of batting ahead of Yoenis Cespedes and the downs of playing for a team he never had before, the Vegas 51s.
He is Michael Conforto, and he is that X-factor.
Conforto’s big-league narrative was about as perfect a picture any 22-year old could ask for: he was called up to the Majors from Double-A Binghamton on July 24, 2015 — just over a year removed from the day the Mets selected him with the 11th overall pick in 2014 draft.
And that’s just the beginning. In between tremendous run production key to the last season’s run and World Series heroics, Conforto slashed .292/.361/.907 through his first 78 games.
To put that into perspective, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout — two players on the fast track to Cooperstown — hit .267/.339/.779 and .291/.350/.826, respectively, through their first 78 big league games.
Oh and, by the way, Conforto hit 13 homers over his first 78, while Harper hit nine and Trout smashed ten.
The numbers are indisputably indicative of a true hitter. Simply put, Conforto can handle major league pitching.
But after a torrid month of April this season in which Conforto slashed .365/.442/.676, his batting average dipped to a .222 prior to his June 25 demotion.
The struggles became even further pronounced when Conforto couldn’t find his stroke in a brief August Major League stint. His line for the season is collectively .218 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI.
Following a second demotion on August 12, Conforto honed in on Triple-A pitching as he managed a ridiculous .493 batting average over that 67-at bat trip.
Folks, the guy is ready.
Though his season has been an undoubted roller coaster, he still contains a potent ability to right the ship and grip the formerly held highs of his first few big league months.
With the Mets’ injury train finding new passengers every stop of the way, the opportunity to steady his game is a blaring one.
To Conforto, one can only say: seize it.