There are few who believed that anyone in the baseball community would be talking about the New York Mets as serious playoff contenders in August, but here we are. The Mets have won 13 of their last 14 games and moved to within one game of a National League Wild Card seeding. This is a far cry from where the franchise was in June and July, where everything that could go wrong did, and manager Mickey Callaway was one bad game away from losing his job.
The tides have now turned in Flushing, thanks in large part to General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s shrewdness at this year’s Major League Baseball trade deadline. It was seemingly a foregone conclusion that the Mets would be selling off their more valuable assets to jumpstart a rebuild. Most notably, pitchers Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard became hot commodities, as they were sought-after by several teams.
Van Wagenen flipped the script on the entire league on July 28 when he traded for Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, whom had also been on the trading block for some time. The move was greeted with a collective,”Huh?” from the baseball community, and with good reason. At the time of the trade, the Mets held a 50-55 record and were six games out of a Wild Card spot.
Rather than selling, folding on the 2019 season, and accruing prospects, the Mets decided to relinquish two of their own highly touted prospects to obtain Stroman. The bonus of the Stroman acquisition for the Mets is that he still has one year of team control, meaning arbitration, left after the 2019 season. This precludes the Mets from having to worry about handing out a long term, expensive contract to their new pitcher right away. They can maximize the asset for the remainder of this season, as well as 2020, as they strive to contend in the NL East.
The Stroman trade was just the beginning of the Mets’ resurgence. Rather than shipping away Wheeler and Syndergaard, Van Wagenen opted to bring in Stroman to beef up the middle of their starting rotation. With Jacob deGrom still leading the way, and the trio of Stroman, Syndergaard, and Wheeler following him, the Mets are now in prime position to make a run at the postseason.
Of course, having a good roster on paper isn’t enough to guarantee a spot in the playoffs (just ask the Boston Red Sox); the team has to go out and win games to make it all worth it. Luckily for management and fans alike, that is exactly what the Mets have done. They’ve gone 18-6 in the second half of the 2019 season, and they have done it largely off the strength of their starting pitching. Mets starting pitchers hold a 2.61 ERA since the All-Star break, which is the best mark in the majors.
However, pitching is only half the battle, and there is no team that can reasonably expect to earn a playoff spot without a proper balance of offense and pitching. The Mets offense has also come to life in the second half of the season, led by Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, two of the Mets’ most promising young stars. McNeil currently leads the NL in hitting with an impressive .339 batting average, to go along with 15 home runs. Meanwhile, Alonso is showing that his victory in the 2019 Home Run Derby was no fluke. He has smashed 37 home runs this season, which puts him just two shy of Christian Yelich‘s league-leading 39 home runs.
“Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make” has long been a popular adage in baseball, and it perfectly applies to the Mets right now. Van Wagenen’s decision to stand pat with his current group as the trade deadline passed has breathed new life into the Mets. Speaking with Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Callaway and his players expressed their excitement over the fact that none of the Mets’ prominent players were traded away.
“It was a huge jolt,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “When 4:01 hit that day, you saw a lot of excitement in the clubhouse. The guys have gone out there and backed up the moves that we didn’t make.”
Wheeler, who kept his strong second half going by tossing eight scoreless innings against the Marlins Marlins in a Tuesday night victory, expressed his confidence in the team making a push for the playoffs.
“We know how good we can be and how good we are,” Wheeler said. “We’re shooting for it.”
What’s happening at Citi Field has a special feeling to it, but Callaway and the Mets know that there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played. They still have a pair of important series ahead against the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, as well as three more series against the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
The Mets will be harshly tested and scrutinized over their final 47 games, as they fight for their playoff lives. While the team’s current hot streak has been impressive, it’s also important to note that they’ve done it by beating up on the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Marlins, all of whom are under .500 and far out of the playoff picture.
The real test is on its way, but now that the trade winds have finally died down, the Mets feel confident that the group they have can continue this run and rewrite the story of the 2019 season.