Mets March to Postseason

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Issue 1, Volume 110

By Rudolph Merlin 

Brodie Van Wagenen was hired to replace Sandy Alderson as the general manager of the New York Mets on October 29, 2018. That year, the Mets were, as usual, in the cellar, finishing with a dismal record of 77-85 and missing the playoffs for what felt like the 10th year in a row even though it had only been three. A lot would be needed to be done to revamp the team back to its 2015 pennant-winning ways. The pitching was great, but the main issue was the Mets’ lack of power and consistency in their batting lineup. The Mets were second to last in the National League in hits (1282), had a collective batting average tied for last in the National League (.234), and were bottom five in OBP (on base percentage) and SLG (slugging percentage). Wagenen attempted to address this in a series of strange signings that included aging second baseman Robinson Cano for a whopping $24 million per year, an average slugger in mediocre catcher Wilson Ramos, and a left-fielder by the name of J.D Davis who batted .175 in 42 games with the Houston Astros in 2018. These purchases alongside several relievers were met with great criticism from journalists and Met fans. When asked about these purchases in January, Wagenen proudly responded: “Our goal is to win a championship...come get us.”

The Mets had no problems getting the engine running (going 9-4 their first 13 games). Two young talents—utility player Jeff McNeil and first baseman Pete Alonso—emerged from the lineup and put up MVP caliber numbers. McNeil went 4-5 on the second game of the season and quickly became one of the league’s top hitters. Meanwhile, Alonso’s power became known to everyone almost immediately, hitting 18 home runs in a span of two months. Despite terrific performances from these two, coupled with ace pitching from Jacob DeGrom, the Mets could not keep the engine running. Relievers from the likes of Robert Gsellman to Chris Flexen had trouble not letting up runs. By the end of June, the Mets blew a league leading 20 wins all thanks to the ineptness of the bullpen. 2018 All-Star closer Edwin Diaz was all too irregular, and the Mets plummeted to a dismal 40-50 before the All-Star break, 13.5 games behind division leaders Atlanta Braves. Wagenen’s infamous words hung over his head.

Then came the Homerun Derby, where millions of baseball fans saw Alonso destroy the competition and take the title. I took this as a sign that perhaps the underperforming team from Queens, New York was not yet out of the playoff picture. And when the second half of the MLB season began, it was Alonso who was leading the miracle the Mets needed to get into the postseason.

Since July 12, Alonso has crushed 24 HR’s and has broken both the National League rookie season record and the Mets franchise record. He is on pace to reach 50 by the end of the season. Shortstop Amed Rosario and Davis also began to make their impact on the Mets. Davis’s batting average jumped from .275 to .311 in a month, while Rosario has recorded a career-high 143 hits even before September. Ramos has turned his season around as well with an ongoing 22 game hitting streak and a .407 BA in August. Wagenen's questionable signings are beginning to have paid off, and all the while, McNeil has one five highest batting average in the MLB.

From the run support came a boost of confidence to some of the weaker links in the pitching rotation. Seth Lugo and Gsellman have dominated as relievers since the All-Star break and Diaz has quietly recorded 25 saves. More importantly, though, Steven Matz got his big break. Matz has an ERA of 1.75 in his last eight starts. This is a much better statistic then the 4.00 ERA he held in the month of June. His dominance is a metaphor for the Mets’ pitching, which is currently the finest in the MLB. Matz is pitching like an All-Star against top-caliber teams and could be extremely valuable as the Mets head into their last 30 games. Since the All-Star Break, the Mets’ bullpen ranks first in the MLB and leads in lowest ERA and lowest runs allowed, a complete turnaround from their 21st place rank just two months ago.

The Mets have won 27 of their last 40 games, including a sweep of the AL Central Division Leaders Cleveland Indians. But what determines the Mets’ chances to make the postseason is their ability to stand toe to toe with the best five teams of the National League. The Mets recently lost six close games and are due to compete against the Nationals, Phillies, and the Dodgers in the coming weeks. These are all teams that, like the Mets, have dominated July and August. If the Mets are able to get a winning record from these three series, then perhaps a playoff spot would not be a miracle, but rather a “Mets-pectation.”