BY JOE RINI
A marathon season for the Mets that’s seen Yoenis Cespedes trotting on horseback in the winter, Bartolo Colon’s first home run trot in the spring, and no Matt Harvey since the Fourth of July, is set to be decided in the opening days of autumn as the resurgent Mets vie with the Giants and the Cardinals for the two National League wildcard spots.
The legacy of the 2016 season is being written in these final 2 ½ weeks of September. With the Mets sitting precariously ½ game ahead of the Cardinals and ½ game behind the Giants entering play on September 14, the range of possibilities for the Mets on October 5 includes hosting the wildcard game, traveling to St. Louis or San Francisco for the game, or the opening tee at Rockland Lake Executive Golf Course in Congers.
Whether the Mets are one of the wildcard teams in the playoffs will depend in large part on how much gas is left in a pitching tank that’s running close to empty. The staff is anchored by Noah Syndergaard, who went over the 200 strikeout mark during the Mets 4-3 ten-inning win on Tuesday, and the 43-year old Colon, who was supposed to be in the bullpen two months ago. Out of the bullpen, Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed have been stellar in the closer and set-up roles but they’re also among the league leaders in games pitched.
With the continued absence and questionable return of Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, rookie call-ups Seth Lugo and Rob Gsellman have been effective replacements in the rotation during the Mets’ rise in the standings. So far, Lugo is 4-1 in five starts and the Mets have won two of Gsellman’s three starts and the Mets will be counting heavily on these lightly experience pitchers.
Yet even with the success of Lugo and Gsellman, manager Terry Collins will have to scramble to fill out the rotation in the wake of Rafael Montero most recent failure, a six run thrashing in less than two innings during Monday’s 8-1 defeat to the Nationals. While Collins announced that Montero would not make his next scheduled start on Sunday, his replacement isn’t known yet.
The Mets have won 17 of 23 since August 20 to propel themselves back into contention, and they return to Citi Field on Friday to start a 10 game homestand against the Twins, Braves, and Phillies before finishing the season with six games in Philadelphia and Miami. While much has been made of the Mets “easy” schedule down the stretch in contrast to the Giants and Cardinals, their margin for error is slim as their under .500 rivals will seek to play spoiler.
Outside the confines of the white lines of the field, the Mets announced on September 12 that Wally Backman had resigned as manager of Triple-A Las Vegas and would be leaving the organization. The pages of the Backman press release were still warm from the copy machine as speculation mounted about whether the former member of the 1986 champion Mets was actually fired or forced out for being defiant.
Backman issued a statement stating that he was resigning because he “didn’t see a future at the Major League level with the Mets at this time.” As this “he said” – “front office said” saga continues, one thing is certain in this case: what happened in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas this time.