By Brad Kallet
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There’s finally some good news, both on and off the field.
The Mets, who lost to the Nationals, 8-1, in Washington, D.C. on Monday night, have won 16 of 22 and are a half-game in front of the Cardinals for the second wild card berth in the National League. The Giants lead them by 1 1/2 games for the first wild card.
After its series against the Nationals concludes on Wednesday, Terry Collins’ club will have 16 regular season games left on its schedule, all against sub-.500 teams.
If the Mets play the way they’ve been playing the last three weeks, they should sail into the postseason. That, as we all know, is far from a sure thing, but, Monday notwithstanding, this team is playing its best ball of the season and is only getting healthier, for a change.
We won’t see Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, David Wright or Neil Walker again this season, but some key cogs might be back in Queens in the not-too-distant future.
Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, two of the Mets’ quartet of young stud starting pitchers, threw off a mound this past weekend, and deGrom threw 35 more pitches on Monday. It’s unclear when they’ll return to the rotation, but they are clearly taking significant steps in the rehabilitation process.
It was reported before the Mets’ game on Monday that deGrom, who has pitched just once since Aug. 24 due to a forearm issue, could come out of the bullpen as early as this week. The plan is for the former All-Star and Rookie of the Year to ease his way back in, get some innings under his belt and then resume his role as a starter.
Matz’s status is a bit murkier. The left-hander, nursing a shoulder impingement, threw on Saturday and, according to Collins, will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday. If there wasn’t a chance that they’d return in 2016, deGrom and Matz wouldn’t be throwing any kind of sessions, so the fact that they are is a positive sign.
And the Mets desperately need one, if not both, back as soon as possible. Rafael Montero, as we saw on Monday night, cannot be counted on, and probably shouldn’t get another start. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have done an admirable job, but it just seems like a matter of time before their luck starts to run out.
New York can probably reach the postseason without Matz or deGrom, but if this team is to make a run in October, the duo will need to return to the rotation.
The offense, amazingly, is less of an issue at the moment. The Mets have been scoring runs, but the more power, depth and speed, the better. Last week, Juan Lagares was cleared to swing a bat. The 27-year-old outfielder hopes to return this season, though he might be limited at the plate. At the very least, Lagares, who is recovering from a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, would be valuable in the field and as a pinch runner late in games.
A former Gold Glove winner, Lagares could play center field — the Mets sorely need competence down the middle right now — and spell Yoenis Cespedes in left when he needs a day off. A somewhat underrated hitter, Lagares would also be a nice option for Collins as a bat off the bench.
Lucas Duda, another player previously presumed out for the year, due to a stress fracture in his back, was scheduled to take live batting practice in Atlanta this past weekend. It’s unclear how the slugger is feeling at the moment, but the Mets, who have said they’ll take it slow with the first baseman, would welcome him back with open arms. The bottom line is Duda is an impact bat. For as streaky as he can be — and he can be awfully streaky — he also has a tendency to get red hot, and when that happens he can carry a team for two weeks.
James Loney has done a very solid job in Duda’s absence, but the former isn’t nearly as imposing as the latter. If Duda is 100 percent, should he get his job back? It’s not as clear as it once was. Loney puts the ball in play and is typically steadier than Duda, but the answer is probably yes.
Duda has 30-homer power and, when he’s right, puts together strong at-bats, draws walks and hits absolute bombs. He’d slot in nicely behind Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce in the six-hole, and would turn New York’s lineup into one of the most powerful in the league. He’ll certainly need days off if and when he returns, so Loney would still get his fair share of playing time. And when the Mets need a pinch hitter in a crucial spot, there would be far worse options than Loney, a smart, veteran hitter who doesn’t strike out much and knows how to swing the bat situationally.
As the rat race enters the homestretch, the Mets need all the help they can get. And as slow going as it might be, it appears to be on the way.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.