The Mets Turn Into A Fun Team To Watch

Are the New York Mets actually becoming that lovable team? The organization that has mostly inflicted suffering upon its fans, amidst a few years of being successful and little pompous about it in the 1984-90 timeframe and again in 1999-2000 with Bobby Valentine, has overtaken the haughty Washington Nationals and been embraced by their city.

Wilmer Flores is the centerpiece of the lovefest that was on display for a national audience this past Sunday Night when the Mets closed out a three-game sweep of the Nationals at Citi Field. Flores got national attention when a rumor that he had been traded (a rumor that was basically true, save for some final review of medical reports) got to him.

The kid who had known nothing but being a Met since coming from Venezuela began to cry. Instead of resulting in a derisive “There’s no crying in baseball” rebuke, the fans embraced him with a “You like me, you really like me!”, love. In a story too surreal for a movie, the trade fell through and Flores hit a walk-off home run that night to open the Nats series. Then came the sweep of Washington, and now New York has a two-game lead in the NL East coming into Thursday night.

It’s a terrific story and as one without any real emotional investment in the Mets, I find myself rooting for them. When it comes for someone to root for, give me Flores over Bryce Harper any day. And give me an organization that aggressively made moves at the trade deadline over the one who famously shut down Stephen Strasburg for the 2012 playoffs, under the presumptuous notion that opportunities to win would be so bountiful that they could just mail one in.

Anyway, the real question now is whether the Mets have the horses to beat out the Nationals in the NL East. As of now, both teams are substantially behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are the top wild-card and also trail the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants for the second wild-card. All that could change, but right now, fans of both the Mets and Nats should presume they’ll need to reach October the old-fashioned way.

We know New York has the pitching. They’re third in the NL in ERA and have great young arms in Jacob de Grom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. They have a veteran in Bartolo Colon, they have a solid starter in Jonathan Niese and they have a good closer in Jeurys Familia. Whether you break the staff down by the rotation or the bullpen, they each finish third in ERA compared to their NL counterparts.

It’s offense that’s the problem. The Mets are 13th in the National League in runs scored. The power is good—they’re sixth in the league in home runs even with Citi Field being noted as a pitcher’s park. They’re ninth in doubles and eighth in walks. But the batting average is the worst in the league. The Mets just don’t get hits with enough consistency.

Daniel Murphy’s .275 batting average was the best on the team as it was comprised prior to the July 31 trade deadline. Lucas Duda has 21 home runs, catcher Travis d’Arnaud is slugging .494 and Curtis Granderson is having a solid comeback year, with a .352 on-base percentage and .445 slugging percentage, keyed by 17 home runs.

All that was nice, but not enough. With a hungry and loyal fan base imploring the front office for moves, the organization implied. They brought in Juan Uribe to play third base, where David Wright’s absence due to spinal stenosis created a year-long void. Kelly Johnson can play anywhere from third to first to the outfield and has a respectable bat.

But the big acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit. His .294 batting average gives the team someone who legitimately hits consistently. He’s got power, with 18 home runs. Cespedes isn’t the most patient hitter in the world, but this Mets team has a bigger need for his assets, which include a great arm in the outfield. Furthermore, Cespedes has played most of his career in pitcher’s parks, from Oakland to Detroit (save for a brief stop in Boston). His numbers should reliably translate to Citi Field.

Is all this enough to take down the Nats? Las Vegas is still cautious. The Mets are 15-1 to win the World Series, which trails the Nationals, who sit at 9-1, along with National League powers in the Dodgers and Cardinals, and the defending Series champion Giants.

I would share that caution. Washington is on a slide right now, but I like what they did at the deadline in getting Jonathan Papelbon. The margin in the NL East is still only two games and the Nationals are going to be getting some key pieces, notably Denard Span, back in their lineup soon. I would expect Washington to re-take the lead and finish first, leaving the Mets to try and fight with the Cubs and Giants for the last wild-card, shades of a great race between these three teams in 1998.

But while I’d pick the Nationals, I hope the Mets do it. Maybe I just got swept up in the moment of watching the crowd enthusiasm on Sunday Night Baseball last week, but between the Flores story, these young arms, and my natural sympathy for any fan base fighting to get out of the long shadow of the Yankees, I’m hoping we’ll be watching baseball in Queens come October.