A month ago, the Mets weren’t exactly at rock bottom, but they weren’t far-off.
The manager had cursed out a reporter. The general manager, according to multiple news media accounts, had thrown a chair in a meeting.
At the All-Star break, the Mets had lost 10 of their last 14 games, were seven games out of the last wild card spot and had the second-worst record in the National League at 40-50. It seemed pretty likely the Mets players were going to be playing golf and hunting come Oct. 1.
But on Monday morning the Mets woke up one game out of the playoffs after a torrid month that few could have predicted. At the All-Star break, if you still believed in the Mets, you could get 325-1 for them to win the World Series, according to Sports Odds History. Now those odds are down to 36-1.
Here’s what happened, as reflected in some New York Times headlines.
The Times asked this question on July 12, as the All-Star break ended. The bullpen was a mess. Pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez had been fired. At least Pete Alonso had won the Home Run Derby.
One person was optimistic. “I feel like we can make a run at this thing,” Manager Mickey Callaway said. “We can sneak into that wild-card.”
That statement, which very likely caused puzzlement for all but the most deluded of Mets fans, might just turn out to be correct.
Since the break, the Mets are on an unexpected 21-7 run that includes seven- and eight-game winning streaks. (The team Mets fans love to hate, the Yankees, are only 20-10 over that period.) Now, at 61-57 with arguably the top pitching staff in baseball, the Mets are suddenly the team no one wants to face in a short series.
It started with a 4-1 stretch against the Marlins and Twins that included a 4-for-4 performance by Michael Conforto against Minnesota. The team then lost three of four to the Giants, but all the losses were by a single run. Maybe something was brewing.
Heading into a series against San Diego with the trade deadline approaching, The Times suggested the Mets might take a page from their opponents’ book and consider trading veterans for prospects. Perhaps Noah Syndergaard, the team’s talismanic pitcher, might have to go in the fire sale.
But the Mets proceeded to take two of three from the Padres — Robinson Cano rolled back the years with a three-homer game — and sweep the Pirates. With things looking up, the Mets seemed to become buyers, not sellers, and landed the All-Star pitcher Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays for two top prospects. It was all the sweeter for the Mets’ fan base because of chatter that the Yankees were also interested in Stroman.
Almost immediately though, the signals became more mixed, when the Mets traded another starter, Jason Vargas, to the Phillies.
Most important though, the big names, like Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, stayed put. Was it because the Mets believed in a turnaround? Or simply because they couldn’t get the price they sought? Now, it hardly matters.
As the trade deadline passed and the Mets players looked around and saw almost all their teammates were still in the locker room, the wins began to accumulate. A sweep of the contending White Sox made it seven in a row for the Mets. After the Sox, the Mets entered a stretch against the league’s bottom-feeders, and proceeded to go 6-1 against the Pirates and Marlins. “If we keep rolling the way we are, we’ve got a really awesome chance to do something really special,” Alonso said.
On Friday night, the Mets rallied from 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Nationals in front of a reinvigorated Citi Field.
Oh, how the headlines have changed. The Mets finally lost on Sunday after eight wins in a row, but that wild card spot seems tantalizingly close.
Should they get the spot, the one-game playoff format may favor a team that can roll out Jacob deGrom (2.68 E.R.A.), the defending N.L. Cy Young Award winner, or Syndergaard as the starter.
The improvements seem to be coming from all over. The relievers appear to be coming around. Alonso, Conforto, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis are all consistent batting threats. The hiring of an 82-year-old, Phil Regan, as pitching coach could have looked eccentric if the team had slumped. Instead, it seems inspired. An outside-the-box suggestion by the hitting coach Chili Davis to move the batting tee a few inches seems to be what Conforto needed.
The Mets have benefited also from playing in a league that looks pretty flabby behind the elite teams like the Dodgers, Braves and Cubs.
Running down the Nationals? The Cardinals? The Brewers? That sounds far less daunting.
Beginning Tuesday night in Atlanta, site of so much Mets heartbreak a generation ago, it gets real. The Mets’ run has been helped by a combined 11-2 record against the cellar-dwelling Marlins and Pirates. But 12 of the next 15 games are against the Braves, Indians and Cubs.
The Mets may yet be free for hunting and golf come October, bit at least the next six weeks look like they will be very interesting.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Conforto said. “We’re not even halfway through August.”