Palladino: Believe It Or Not, Mets Still Have Shot In Weak NL East
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By Ernie Palladino
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Using the Mets in the same sentence as luck might not be the most prudent of structure this year, especially as they appear poised at the precipice of irrelevance. Not when the urge to move veterans for better hitters grows by the day.
And yet, let’s take some time to think about this. Terry Collins’ bunch of haphazard fielders, boneheaded base runners, and linguine lineup sits in last place of the NL East, seven games under .500.
Not good, by any means. But — and again, we’re just dreaming here — not hopeless, either. Not that they’re in any position right now to rip off 10 or 12 in a row, but a couple of mini-streaks here and there, and they could be right back in the middle of the pack and within spitting distance of the divisional lead or the second wild card.
They can thank their division mates for that. With Washington leading at just 37-34, and Atlanta, Miami, and Philadelphia all within four games, the Mets’ five-game deficit doesn’t look like an impossible climb anymore. Having the good fortune to be part of baseball’s worst division record-wise gets you a chance to dream, even if the season looks increasingly nightmarish.
Imagine, for instance, if the Mets were in the NL Central. They’d be in a double-digit hole behind Milwaukee, virtually all hope of any relevance gone. Same with the NL West, where San Francisco holds a four-game lead over no-no pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s Dodgers with a 43-29 mark. Even Colorado, Kershaw’s no-hit victim Wednesday, must be feeling pretty helpless at 34-38 and nine games back. San Diego and Arizona, 12 1/2 and 13 games under, haven’t got a prayer, and it’s not even July yet.
But here are the Mets, playing more like Single-A than MLB, performing before empty seats at Citi Field, just five games off the lead.
One good run, and the season could look totally different.
Creating that streak is the issue, though. It was nice to see Bartolo Colon throw eight strong innings and contribute a leadoff double in the sixth that led to a run and a 3-2 win Wednesday in St. Louis. But don’t count on Colon for any more offensive support. That double was his first extra-base hit of his career, and he’s been around for 17 years. Granted, all but part of one year was spent in the DHing American League, but that only underscores that the 41-year-old has no idea what to do with a piece of lumber.
Still, his hurling proved he can still play at a high level despite the age.
Zack Wheeler may have started his turnaround with Thursday night’s complete-game gem. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee have held their own, Niese to the point where his 2.67 ERA despite a 3-4 mark has put him on the edge of the All-Star conversation. If some hits start dropping for David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and the rest of what passes for a lineup, anything is possible as long as the Mets don’t suddenly change divisions.
At least one local columnist believed the time was right for a sell-off of talent, ostensibly to stop the current rebuilding cycle. But that would be a mistake. For as bad as the Mets have looked, there is still a season within reach. The Mets can still do something — quite easily, in fact — and turn 2014 relevant again. They are in the right division. Placement anywhere else would have legitimized the “build toward next year” philosophy and had us bidding Niese, Colon, Gee, and maybe even Wright or Murphy a fond adieu for a better-hitting flock.
The wonders of the NL East keep all hope alive, however. Some prudent base-running, a fielding turnaround, and a couple of hot hitting streaks can turn things around with the personnel the Mets have right here, right now as long as the rotation pitches well.
As dim as the Mets’ situation appears, it’s just too early to give up on this roster and this season.
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