BY JOE RINI
The express train to the station stop “2015 Post-Season” for the New York Mets appears to have been re-routed to the local track since the Amazins returned to Citi Field last week. Whether the train safely reaches its destination or is derailed a la 2007 will be the question to be answered over the next 10 days as the Mets try to clinch and prepare for a playoff spot.
An eight-game win streak that included road sweeps over the Nationals and Braves catapulted the Mets to a 9.5 game lead in the National League East on September 14. However, after taking the opener last week against the Marlins, the first place Mets dropped five of their next seven games at home while the Nationals trimmed the lead to 6.5 games entering play on September 23.
A surging Mets offense that carried a tiring starting pitching staff for the first half of September has cooled over the past week with the Mets scoring only 16 runs across seven games. Typifying the recent Mets cool down has been Yoenis Cespedes, who after homering in nine of 13 games to start September, went hitless in 19 at bats before doubling against the Yankees on Sunday.
I chatted with veteran Daniel Murphy before Sunday’s game, and Murphy, who hasn’t been in a pennant race since his late season call-up by the Mets in 2008, said, “Anytime you play meaningful games in September, you appreciate it…you never take it for granted.” He continued and said the 2015 Mets were a “good group of guys” and like others on the team have said to me, being in a pennant race is “fun.”
Unfortunately, Sunday’s game against the Yankees was not quite as much fun for Murphy, his teammates, or manager Terry Collins. The soap opera that is Matt Harvey’s pitch limits debate, culminated in the righthander being removed after only 77 pitches and five shutout innings with a 1-0 lead only to see a bullpen and fielding implosion lead to an 11-2 trouncing by the Yankees.
After Sunday’s game, a frustrated Collins referred to Harvey’s exit as a “perfect storm” and before Monday’s game he stated, “This is a different era and a different age…if it keeps us from winning the pennant, I’m not going to be very happy about it. But it is what it is and you have to adapt to it.”
With Jacob deGrom being the latest Mets starter to skip a start this week, I asked Collins before Sunday’s game about how a pitcher could combat late season fatigue besides skipping starts, and he mentioned the importance of limiting throwing between starts and keeping legs strong by reducing the “workload” in the training room; he cautioned against a pitcher changing his delivery or approach except (and here he cited veteran Bartolo Colon as someone who knows how to do this), “knowing how to save ammunition for when he needs it.”
Former Mets catcher Mike Piazza was on the field before Sunday’s game and when asked about the 2015 Mets as compared to Piazza’s pennant winners of 2000, the Mets Hall of Famer said while each team is unique, the key is to “believe you can beat anybody,” and knowing if “they play their game, they can win,” and the 2015 team appears to be at that point.
The Mets close out the current homestand against the Braves on Wednesday and then hit the road for seven games against the Reds and Phillies. The Mets will start the road trip of a magic number of no more than six and will hope to clinch the division before facing the Nationals in the final weekend of the season at Citi Field.