In the last two weeks, I've written twice how difficult and unlikely it is that the Mets will be able to battle their way to the postseason. This time around, I'll be more optimistic.
Suddenly, unlike during mid-May, Baseball Prospectus sees a strong second half for Brodie Van Wagenen, Mickey Callaway and their roster.
Based on what they've done so far, how they're trending and the team's remaining schedule, the statistical-based website projects the Mets to go 56-44 during the season's final 100 games -- which would be the best record in the NL East between now and the end of the regular season.
In the above scenario, the Mets would finish with 86 wins. And, while that is typically not enough to cross the Wild Card finish line, it does mean the Mets would be alive and kicking heading in to the final week or two of September. If this is the situation facing them, anything becomes possible. Here are five reasons to be optimistic...
The hit machine is back
Jeff McNeil missed 12 games with a strained hamstring, skipped the standard rehab assignment, returned to the Mets and never missed a beat.
In the three games he has played since rejoining his teammates, McNeil has six hits.
"He's a pure hitter," Callaway recently said about McNeil.
McNeil has played in 112 games since making his debut during July of 2018. In that time, spanning 449 at-bats, he's hitting .336 with 37 extra base hits and a .400 OBP. The worst stretch of his short career resulted in him hitting just .200, but the slump lasted just 10 games toward the end of this past May, after which he rebounded to pick up eight hits in the 17 at-bats prior to straining his hamstring.
"I feel pretty good. I'm just trying to get good pitches to hit and trying not do too much up there," the 27-year-old McNeil said earlier this week.
Amed Rosario is hitting for power
Rosario hit his seventh home run of the season this week when belting a three-run shot during the team's win against the Giants.
It took the young shortstop 122 games to hit seven home runs last season.
"We know he's got very good power. It's starting to really come along," Callaway said, after which he stated Rosario has always had the potential to hit at least 20 home runs. "This approach is allowing him to square the ball up a little bit more and hit it out of the park."
Initially known for his speed, Rosario is on pace to hit 20 doubles and 20 home runs, while stealing 15 bases and driving in 85 runs. His average (.252) and OBP (.294) have been negatively impacted by his frequent strikeouts, but that is beginning to turn around.
Rosario struck out during 27 percent of his plate appearances through this season's first 35 games. Since then, he has struck out just 18 percent of his plate appearances.
"I think I've been able to use the whole field," Rosario said, according to the NY Post, after hitting his most recent home run. "It's also helped me with my control of the strike zone. I just let the ball get a little bit deeper so I can take advantage of the whole field."
The rotation is gaining strength, including Jason Vargas
In his most recent start, No. 5 starter Jason Vargas pitched a complete game against the Giants.
He has allowed no more than one run in six of his last seven starts, during which he has 1.85 ERA.
"I think that whenever people struggle for a certain amount of time, everybody has questions that they ask themselves," Vargas recently said, according to the Post. "I don't think that necessarily leads to doubt. It's just something that people do and you have to question yourself in order to get the answers that you might need."
Meanwhile, Thursday afternoon, Zack Wheeler pitched in to the seventh inning for the fourth straight start. It was also the team's third consecutive quality start.
Along those lines, following a terrible outing on May 24, Noah Syndergaard has rebounded to pitch at least six innings and let up just three runs in each of his last two appearances. Similarly, Jacob deGrom may have been rocked against the Marlins in mid May, but prior he had let up just three runs in his previous 21 innings and -- since facing the Marlins -- he's let up only four runs in three games. Steven Matz had been on a roll up until his most recent start.
I'll take one bad outing every four or five appearances, though. If Callaway's staff can keep up that pace, it'll make all the difference between how the Mets played in May and how they'll need to play during the year's remaining 100 games.
The bullpen can only get better
This may seem like a stretch, but it's true. The team's bullpen has been so bad -- allowing 28 earned runs during their most recent 20.1 inning -- it's hard to imagine they could be any worse.
Overall, the bullpen has an abysmal 5.19 ERA, which is sixth-worst in all of baseball.
Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia and Robert Gsellman are too talented and experienced to let the staff's overall numbers continue to sag. It's almost always the case that bullpens slump in May and June, either because of inconsistent usage, the up-and-down weather or because the manager is trying to test and learn about guys before consolidating their appearances.
If the above is the case, knowing Justin Wilson will eventually be activated and young talent from the minor leagues can be used as a stop gap, Callaway will eventually slot the above names in to more consistent roles, at which point hopefully things can turn around for this group... I mean, they'd have to, right?
Nimmo had an outstanding, headline-worthy 2018. Expectations were lofty heading in to 2019. However, he has struggled and then hit the injured list in late May with a bulging cervical disc in his neck -- which might have had something to do with the aforementioned struggles.
Nimmo started a rehab assignment with Single-A St. Lucie on Thursday night. He hit lead off, started at DH and went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored.
Juan Lagares and Carlos Gomez have disappointed while filling in for Nimmo, who even with his injury and slumps this season had been performing better than his replacements.
Last season, Nimmo had a .404 OBP, 53 extra base hits and 4.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs.
During his final 130 plate appearances in 2018, he reached base nearly 50 percent of the time, some of which had to do with a .375 batting average on balls in play, but was also partially due to a ton of doubles and walks.
If healthy, and having had a couple of weeks to clear his head, Nimmo hopefully will be primed to return to performing like he did last season. And, combined with the above four bullet points, if Nimmo can do what he did in the final month or two of last season, perhaps the Mets actually can attain the projections made by Baseball Prospectus, catch a break or two and give us the unexpected turnaround that would make the summer and fall in Flushing fun.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!