What the New York Mets Need to Do to Get Back in the Playoff Hunt
The dog days of summer are here, and the Mets refuse to say die.
The team won just its second series since the All-Star break by taking two out of three at home against Colorado this week, and the Mets appear to be getting on a little bit of a roll.
Jose Reyes is running the bases well—even if he has had some difficulties in the field lately—and Mike Pelfrey put a rough stretch behind him by throwing seven shutout innings and showing some early-season form.
It's not going to be easy, but the Mets are not that far away from being back in contention in the NL East.
They are going to need a hot streak, some stellar performances, and more than a slice of good fortune, but it's not impossible.
Setting good luck aside, here are five things that need to happen for the Mets to get back in the playoff hunt.
Go 32-16 Over the Rest of the Year
The Mets have 48 games left this season, and it is imperative that they win at least 28 of them. 28-20 would give them a 85-77 record, but they would still be relying on the Braves to play less than .500 baseball. Still, 28 likely won't be enough.
A better way to look at this is that the Mets need to win series. With 15 series remaining in 2010, the Mets would have a 34-14 record if they won every set left.
While that's an unlikely situation, if they took two of three in each of their 10 three-game sets and split their four four-game series and single two-game series, they would finish with a 29-19 finale. It's better, but not ideal.
It's clearly within reach, and it's the minimum the Mets need to be competitive. But something closer to 32 has to be the goal. With the Braves losing Chipper Jones for the season, the momentum might be shifting away from Atlanta.
Beat Divisional Rivals
More pressing than just winning games is that the Mets have to win the right games.
If the Mets win the 32 games mentioned in the last slide but lose the 16 games they have left to the Braves and Phillies, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.
Realistically, the Mets could do with winning five of seven from the Braves and six of nine from the Phillies.
The games against these two rivals will determine the Mets' season. A lot of the teams the Mets have to play down the stretch have losing records, but it's going to come down to beating the guys ahead of you.
Sort Out the Eighth Inning
Is Hisanori Takahashi the answer to the Mets' eighth-inning problems?
After the first game of the Colorado series, you might have said yes. He pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning and got the support of Jerry Manuel after the game.
Manuel practically went as far as saying that he was his new setup guy and that he would be pitching out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future. He added that iif he was pitching as well as everyone said, he would be the guy he goes to when the game matters.
Then he got into trouble in Wednesday's game and Manny Acosta blew up, shattering the idea of who would step up.
Things change a little now that K-Rod is out for at least two games, and the ramifications could extend much longer than this week alone in the coming days.
Pedro Feliciano, Bobby Parnell, Raul Valdes, and Acosta will have to step up, but those last two innings are going to be the most crucial. And whoever is on the mound will likely have the Mets' season in his hands.
Angel Pagan Has to Get Help in the Outfield
I don't mind who the Mets have in the outfield, but they have to step up on offense. Angel Pagan has carried this club all year, and he can't do it all by himself.
Jason Bay isn't particularly close to rejoining the team, but it's not like he's been tearing up the bases this season. Jeff Francoeur publicly said he wants to play every day, even if that means getting traded, and Carlos Beltran hasn't proved yet that he can contribute either at the plate or in the field on a regular basis, despite his three-hit effort on Thursday.
Chris Carter is very much a pinch-hitting bench player, and Fernando Martinez, for all the hype and expectations, is going to take time to adjust to big league pitching. Remember, he only hit .255 in 68 Triple-A games for Buffalo, and there were people wondering why other hot-hitting prospects such as Lucas Duda did not get promoted instead of him.
Whoever trots out in the Mets outfield needs to be able to add value to the club, and it's never going to be more important than over the coming weeks.
Johan Has to Be Johan
As important as the pitching rotation is going to be over the stretch, all eyes are going to be on Johan Santana.
Everyone talks about how he's a second-half pitcher, but if he can't get it done in the next six weeks the Mets won't be playing meaningful October baseball.
He is their ace, their stopper, and with at least nine starts left this season, expectations are high whenever he takes the hill. If he loses, the Mets lose. R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey will have to turn in outstanding starts, that's for sure, but Santana is going to be who the Mets turn to.
He won't just shut down offenses, but he'll give much-needed rest to his bullpen. That in itself could be worth a couple wins when everything is said and done.
He's better than his record suggests, and if New York has to rely on one person to drag the team back into the pennant race, it's him. Nobody has the expectations of winning more than Santana, and that is why his performances are going to be so important in August and September.