In many ways, the Mets' playoff run starts tonight at Citi Field against the Nationals.
The Mets have spent the better part of the past three weeks beating up on the league's worst teams, pushing them from being seven games under .500 to just a half-game back of the second Wild Card spot.
It's been a fun, wonderful run, but we will soon find out if it was a simply a summer fling or a true realization of their original expectations for 2019.
"What we've done is not easy, but it's in the past," manager Mickey Callaway told reporters Wednesday. "If we keep on playing the way we've been playing, we're going to continue to do good things."
This is true. However, it won't be easy. Between now and the end of the season, the Mets will play 27 games against the Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, Phillies and Cubs, against whom they are 19-25.
Thankfully, half of those games are home, the first of which is tonight against the Nationals, who lead the NL Wild Card race by two games and are coming off a series sweep of the Padres. The Mets are also coming off a series sweep that extended their current winning streak to six games.
"We've got an awesome chance to do something really special and make a helluva run towards the end," Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso said Wednesday. "We're just going to keep playing ball and see what happens."
Similar to the Mets, the Nationals have dug themselves out of a painful, disappointing hole by winning 30 of their last 41 games. In late May they were 12 games under .500, but are now atop the NL Wild Card standings, a postion which they've occupied for weeks.
In the first game of the weekend series, Marcus Stroman (6-11, 3.07 ERA) will make his Citi Field debut and second start for the Mets since being acquired July 28. The Mets are 10-1 since the trade.
Stroman, who allowed three runs in 4.1 innings in his team debut, has never faced the Nationals. However, during his five-year career, he has pitched well against Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton and Yan Gomes...
Stroman and the health of his fellow starting pitchers may be the most important factor in the team's continued fight for October. As it stands, while the rotation has posted baseball's best ERA (2.62) since the All Star break, if someone is injured, he will likely be replaced by either Walter Lockett or Ervin Santana.
"Everybody's just got to keep doing what we've been doing," Steven Matz noted Wednesday, according to MLB.com.
The Mets will throw their top three starters (Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom) in the series, during which the pitching matchups are as follows...
"The Nationals have a better team on the field than just about any club in the game," a National League talent evaluator recently told the NY Post's Mike Puma. "But saying that, if I had to put my money on a team to go to the World Series in the National League, I would put it on the Mets."
To win that bet, it will help to have Callaway determine bullpen roles based on each pitcher's recent successes or struggles. For instance, it might be smart to begin using Seth Lugo in high-leverage spots instead of Edwin Diaz. In his last 11 appearances, Lugo has not allowed a run, while striking out 16 batters and walking no one in 12.1 innings.
Robert Gsellman, Justin Wilson and Luis Avilian are also proving worthy of more important work. Gsellman struggled with his sinker through the first half of the season, but has a 2.25 ERA since the All Star break. Wilson returned from the injured list and has allowed just one run over his last 10 innings. Meanwhile, Avilan, who is dominating left-handed hitters, has not given up a run in his last nine appearances.
The best way to insure the above four stay strong and continue pitching well may be getting Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler to continue pitching deep in to games. Over the past three weeks, the trio has pitched in to the seventh inning 11 times, lightening the load on the bullpen.
At the plate, Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis and - most surprisingly - Wilson Ramos have fueled an offense that has scored the most runs in the NL during the past month. Earlier in the season, New York fans and talking heads alike ripped Ramos, who has driven in an astounding 17 runs since the All-Star break.
It's also worth nothing that, while Alonso is batting just .184 since winning the home run Derby, he also has seven home runs, 17 walks and 15 RBI. His .200 batting average on balls in play also suggest he's getting unlucky and may be due for a major hot streak.
Thanks to all of the above, for the first time in three years, it will feel like a playoff series this weekend in Citi Field.
"I know the crowd is going to be crazy," Conforto said two days ago, according to the NY Post. "We're looking forward to having that playoff atmosphere back. It's been too long."
In one corner will be the Nationals, who lead the Wild Card race and are an NL-best 24-14 since late June. In the other corner are our Mets, who much to everyone's surprise now control their own fate. Keep it rolling, boys...
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!