Can the New York Mets Pull off the Unthinkable?
Mets fans have grown so accustomed to dismal second-half performances that it is hard to become enthused after a modest winning streak.
Could it be possible, however, that this winning streak is the beginning of something much bigger? Perhaps a run reminiscent of another team run by Sandy Alderson—the 2002 Oakland Athletics?
That team possessed three Cy Young-caliber pitchers which the Mets clearly do not have, but if their top three starters can perform above their ability for one month, then the Mets can overcome the eight-game deficit that separates them from the wild-card lead.
Would this be unprecedented?
Not at all, as it happened twice in 2011 alone.
On September 2 of last season, the Red Sox held a nine game lead over the Rays. The Red Sox had been on cruise control for four months, and their veteran roster appeared primed for a deep October run.
Baseball doesn't always play out as expected, however, and it was the Rays who won the wild card by the combination of an incredible run coupled with a historic Red Sox collapse.
Over in the National League, the youthful Atlanta Braves were enjoying a fantastic season and led the St. Louis Cardinals by 8.5 games for the wild card.
What would it take for the Mets to overcome their dreadful July/August?
Things began to sour for the Atlanta Braves, who saw a steep drop off in performance from their young and talented bullpen.
The biggest reason was their deteriorating closer. The previously unflappable super rookie did not allow an earned run in July or August and had wrapped up the Rookie of the Year award months ago.
In August and July, he allowed six runs in 11 innings which cost the Braves a couple vital games.
The Cardinals got hot at the right time and rode their fantastic bullpen and clutch hitting by David Freese and Albert Pujols to the postseason.
Do the Mets possess players of that caliber? No, but neither did the Rays who relied on contributions from 25 players and the mental toughness required to enter a division rival's stadium and come away with a sweep.
The Mets will have the opportunity to close the gap in their three-game series against the Cardinals, which could make the deficit become much more feasible with three weeks still remaining after.
To compare this team to the 2002 Athletics would be a bit foolish considering that team was already 17 games over .500 prior to winning 20 consecutive games to pull away from the rest of the AL West.
The contributions of their league-average players was way overblown in the film Moneyball.
Miguel Tejada won the AL MVP and was tied in home runs by Eric Chavez. Jermaine Dye also had a phenomenal season, which made their offense much more than adequate.
Scott Hatteberg did come out of nowhere to play a role, but the team was not reliant on his success.
On the mound, Barry Zito won the AL Cy Young with a 23-5 record. Yes, R.A. Dickey is compiling similar numbers, but their No. 2 and No. 3 starters combined for 34 wins which the Mets cannot match.
If the Mets are to make a run, it would take a significant increase in performance from many sources.
The bullpen would need to maintain its recent hot streak and lower their 4.77 cumulative ERA which is 29th in baseball.
Offensively, Jason Bay needs to find a way to contribute consistently. He has shown brief glimpses of his old self, then quickly reverts to his listless form. He needs to compile a month in which he carries the offense or else he could be unemployed in 2013.
If he can, he would help the infield from carrying the team's offense for the entire season.
If Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejeda and David Wright all produce efficiently, the offense will be sufficient.
Additionally, Dickey, Niese and Harvey all have to pitch effectively in the final month in order for this team to gain steam.
Is it likely to happen?
No, even with teams as resilient as the 2011 Rays and Cardinals, it took historical collapses from the team above them to finish one game ahead.
The Mets have quite a bit of heavy lifting to do, but as I said, if they can do damage against the Cardinals this week, then suddenly it will become that much more attainable.
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