Mickey Callaway
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Mets are on a tear since the All-Star break. Does that mean they have a realistic chance to make the playoffs?

The New York Mets have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break, already jumping four teams in the standings. They are still behind five teams in the wild-card chase, but they’re still within striking distance.

In 2015, the Mets were five games out on deadline day. They acquired Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores, of course, hit a 12th inning walk-off home run against the Nationals. That day sparked the Mets are a run that ended in a heartbreaking World Series loss.

This year’s team is arguably more talented than that 2015 team.

Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and a starting rotation that features Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and newly-acquired Marcus Stroman lead the way. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better rotation than that in all of baseball. This team has many weaknesses, but they’re starting to overcome them.

Over the last month, the Mets defense has been about league-average, a huge step up from the third-worst in baseball they were when that run stated. They’ve also had the best bullpen ERA since the All-Star break. Talent isn’t the only concern for the Mets, though, for the Mets to make the playoffs, everything outside of their control has to break right for them.

Strength of Schedule

Of the team’s either leading the wild card race or within five games the Mets have the second-easiest strength of schedule. The only team that has an easier schedule going forward is the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Mets are in the middle of a series against the White Sox, and things don’t get much more difficult from there. They got to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates next, the same team they just swept in New York. After that, it’s a four-game stretch against the Marlins. There is no reason the Mets can’t continue there recent hot streak into August.

The biggest concern for the Mets is their division rivals. As the season winds down, the Mets are going to see a steady diet of the Braves, Phillies and Nationals. The six games left against the Nationals are a blessing. The Nationals are red hot and look like the favorites to win the first wild-card spot. Still, that six games against a team they’re competing against if they manage to win just four of those games they will have gained two crucial games against a direct competitor.

The same goes for the six games left against the Phillies. The Mets are desperate for wins against the Phillies this year. They have just four wins compared to nine losses against them this year. A strong second-half showing against the Phillies is a necessity for the Mets if they’re going to make a playoff push.

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The Mets also play the Braves nine more times before the season is out. Those games are going to be crucial. They can’t afford to lose those games and lose ground on their wild card opponents. Games against the NL East could very well decide the Mets playoff fortunes.

Including the division foes, the Mets have 19 games left this season against teams in front of them in the wild-card standings, including 16 straight from Aug. 17 through Sept. 12. That’s in the middle of a stretch of 25-straight games against opponents .500 or better. The good news is that only six games during that stretch are on the road.

If the Mets are still fighting to join playoff contention by Aug. 20, buckle up, because that stretch of games will decide the club’s future. The Mets have to play good baseball for another couple of weeks before even worrying about that though.

Teams ahead in the standings

The Arizona Diamondbacks are the team directly in front of the Mets. They have struggled since the All-Star break. They had the talent to contend for a playoff push with the likes of Zack Greinke and Ketel Marte. That said, they never put it together. Instead, they decided to sell and traded their ace and face of their franchise to the Astros.

Without Greinke, it’s hard to see how they win many games down the stretch. Their bullpen is league average, but it’s overtaxed due to a lack of pitching after Greinke. They have the weakest strength of schedule the rest of the way, but they unlike many of the teams in the hunt they lack the momentum to stay in the hunt. That could change at any minute, but as of this writing, the Diamondbacks look like a team in freefall rather than a contender.

The San Francisco Giants are one of if not the hottest team in baseball. Despite a weak starting rotation the Giants bullpen, defense and timely hitting have won them games. The Giants offense is not very good, yet they win games. The Mets saw this first hand when they played each other a little over a week ago. Despite outscoring them soundly, the Giants won three of the four games. That’s how it’s gone for the Giants recently.

Despite clearly being a worse team than the numbers indicate, they continue to win. the Seattle Mariners were like this last year and eventually collapsed when crunch time arrived. Expect the same from the Giants. Eventually, everyone’s luck runs out, and the Giants are playing way over their head right now. Once their luck runs out it will all be over for the Giants.

The Milwaukee Brewers are an immensely talented team. Christian Yelich looks like an MVP again, and if not for Cody Bellinger, would be a shoo-in for a second straight MVP award. On top of him, the Brewers have shut-down closer Josh Hader and one of the best defenses in baseball. The offense for the Brewers is very real. Yelich, Yasmani Grandal, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas lead one of the most lethal units in baseball.

The issue is that they lack pitching. The Brewers are a collection of decent arms that have a tendency to explode at inopportune opportunities, and no ace to lead the staff. When they need a win, they don’t have a starting pitcher to go to and that’s an issue. Their bullpen has also been an issue this year. Outside of Josh Hader, the Brewers don’t have a single regular reliever with an ERA under four. The lack of pitching has started to catch up to the Brewers who have been playing .500 ball since the All-Star break. The talent is there for them to make a run. They just need their bullpen to pitch like the league-best unit it was last year.

The Chicago Cubs are incredibly hard to pin down. They have arguably the second most talented roster in the national league, behind only the Dodgers; yet they are streaky and can’t win games on the road. The Cubs are an astonishing 20-32 on the road. Just over half of the Cubs remaining games are on the road. Couple that with the fact that they have the most difficult schedule, by far, of any of the teams in the race and it’s easy to see why some would say they’re due to fall.

The Cubs have injury issues and they have bullpen issues. Despite all of that, they still employ Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Craig Kimbrel and so much more. The talent on the north side is undeniable and needs to be addressed. The Cubs could go on a run and win their division running away with it. They could also fall off a cliff and finish the year under .500. The Cubs are the biggest wild card left in front of the Mets.

New York Mets

The Philadelphia Phillies have been who they are since the All-Star break. They’re an above-average team with a strong lineup, a starting rotation that lacks depth, and an up-and-down bullpen. Bryce Harper hasn’t been who the Phillies hoped he’d be. Odubel Herrera was suspended for PED use. Their outfield as a whole has been lacking.

That said, their best players have been playing their best. Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins have carried this team. They show no signs of slowing down. In fact, with all the moves the team made in the lead-up to the deadline, and the struggling Harper, this team has a huge amount of upside.

The issue they face is that in recent years the Phillies have been a first-half team. They hang around the playoff picture through July and fall off a cliff in August. If they can avoid that they have a very real chance to snag a wild card spot. More likely, though, is that one or two of their best players hit a slump and the team lags behind the rest in the race. That’s the dangerous game you play when your team is reliant on a few players who lack experience in a playoff race to carry them.

The Washington Nationals are the odds-on favorite to win the top wild-card spot. They are one of the hottest teams in baseball climbing from out of the gutter to this position. Not too long ago, the Nats were one of the worst teams in baseball. They were more than 10 games under .500 and it looked like they were headed for a hugely disappointing year. Instead, they turned their season completely around during a weak stretch of the schedule and now they stand tall over the wild card race. Led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, the Nationals look like one of the best teams in the NL.

The Nationals are hitting a much more difficult part of their schedule now and playing like a .500 team. If they continue to do that, they leave an opening for teams like the Mets to chase them down in the standings. The Nationals are a team known for failure when wins count the most. With or without Bryce Harper, they still need to win games in August and September to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

The Mets road to playoff contention is a long one paved with roadblocks and teams that have more talent than they do. Still, the Mets are red hot and will have the opportunity to play most of these teams again before the season ends.

Is it likely that the Mets make the playoffs? No, it’s not. Is it possible, though? Despite everything that’s happened this season, it’s absolutely still possible the New York Mets can make a legitimate playoff push. Just saying that sounds crazy, yet here they are, in the midst of a competitive wild-card race.

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