By Ernie Palladino
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For all the finagling Terry Collins has had to do with his daily lineup during this injury-filled season, it seems odd that the last thing he has to think about this weekend is Jay Bruce.
Things are coming together at just the right time. With a wild card game looming Wednesday, barring the Mets collapsing in Philadelphia and the Giants and Cardinals surging at home against the Dodgers and Pirates, respectively, the Mets are hitting. And Bruce, that much-maligned Aug. 1 import from Cincinnati, has become their improbable ringleader.
Bruce’s two homers in his last two games, a first for him in a Mets’ uniform, indicates that he’s breaking out of a slump that started the day he arrived. Since then, the Reds slugger has hit .196 with just five homers, hardly the kind of numbers a manager wants in the middle of the lineup.
Making matters worse, only 10 days ago Collins rubbed about a pound of salt into Bruce’s wounds by, with Bruce representing the tying run, sending little-used reserve Eric Campbell to hit for him in a 5-4 loss to the Braves.
And that came on top of the slew of “mental health” days the manager afforded Bruce in an effort to get his mind off his hitting troubles.
But Bruce has a chance to make everybody forget about the bad old days now. He’s hitting again, finally infected with the Mets’ season-long home run contagion. And the continuation of that will be key to not only surviving Wednesday’s presumed wild card meeting with either the Giants or Cardinals, but making some noise past that day.
As nice as home field advantage would be, it is the hitting that will determine who comes out of the wild card alive. Regardless of whether ancient Bartolo Colon or young Noah Syndergaard starts the game, it could well come down to flat-out outscoring the Cardinals, the majors’ sixth-ranked scoring team with 754 runs heading into this final weekend, or the 19th-ranked Giants, who have plated 689 runs.
That’s a lot more runs than the 25th-ranked Mets have scored. And when one considers their much-dissected average with runners in scoring position still sits in last place, the homers will remain the main means of support for whomever takes the mound.
If Bruce can join Yoenis Cespedes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Curtis Granderson in the fun, the Mets could make the upcoming weeks quite fascinating.
Of course, Cespedes is the unquestioned leader in all that. Cabrera can’t be overlooked, though, as his hot bat over the last 15 games has produced four of his season’s 23 homers, with 13 RBI and a .328 batting average.
Granderson, with four homers and 11 RBI over his last 15 games, comes off a series against the Marlins in which he went 7-for-12 with four walks and three RBI. Reyes has contributed steadily since his July 5 arrival.
And now Bruce has made a move to join the party.
He seems locked in. He’s on a five-game hitting streak, his longest with the Mets but still well short of the nine-game run with Cincinnati that ended just two days before the trade.
There’s no salve better for healing previous wounds than postseason success, however.
If Bruce has truly gotten his mind and his bat tracked toward the postseason, the last two months will become a distant memory.
For now, with a playoff spot more probable than not, Bruce couldn’t have heated up at a better time.
With that, forgiveness beckons.
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