Here we sit, with 17 games remaining in the Major League Baseball season. Last year the New York Mets held a seven game lead in the National League East at this point. This day last year marked the start of an epic collapse which allowed the Philadelphia Phillies to capture the NL East crown.
But that was last year. This year is different. The Mets now hold a three game lead over the Phillies.
ESPN and many media outlets (not to mention Phillies fans) like to continually mention last year's collapse and how it could be in the heads of Mets players this year. I say it won't happen again.
For one, Johan Santana will not allow it to happen. If the Mets were to fall into a losing streak, Santana is capable of taking the ball and turning in a dominant performance to turn the momentum back in New York's favor.
These 2008 Mets have had to face something last year's team didn't for the first five months of the season: adversity. Probably the biggest problem in September for last year's team was that they thought they had the division won. The '07 Mets cruised through the season pounding the competition on the way and they became too comfortable, thinking the division would be handed to them. That is not the case with these '08 Mets.
The adversity started on the second day of the season with Pedro Martinez landing on the disabled list with a leg injury. It continued with the injury to Moises Alou, who was considered a key part of the Mets offense. But the Mets persevered, and Angel Pagan stepped up and played great in Alou's absence, until he too was bitten by the injury bug.
Then came the fiasco surrounding Willie Randolph coupled with fans calling for Carlos Delgado to be released. The team suffered through a time where Willie's job hung in the balance every game, until he was fired in Anaheim on June 16. Finally the Mets were able to move on, but the adversity continued.
They endured the concussion problems of the hottest hitter Ryan Church and the struggles of Pedro Martinez. Top pinch hitter Marlon Anderson had several DL stints, and starting second baseman Luis Castillo was injured for an extended period. The Mets are still dealing with adversity with the possible season ending injuries to John Maine and Billy Wagner.
But, with these injuries came an infusion of young talent. Minor league infielder turned starting leftfielder Daniel Murphy has given fans someone to cheer for with his tremendous plate discipline. Rookie outfielder/first baseman Nick Evans has crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .344 average. Argenis Reyes has thrilled the Shea faithful with his excellent defensive plays at second base.
Twenty-four-year-old Mike Pelfrey has been tremendous for New York, going 11-2 with a 3.01 ERA in June, July, and August including two consecutive complete games.
These young players have brough a passion for baseball to this team that it severely lacked in September of last year.
Then came the veterans, stepping up with big performances when they were needed most.
Damion Easley was phenomenal while filling in at second base in place of Luis Castillo. He hit .323 in June and July, and delivered a game winning home run in Jerry Manuel's first win as Mets manager.
Fernando Tatis, who was out of baseball for a time, is one of the biggest reasons the Mets find themselves in first place today. He was the NL's hottest hitter in July when he hit .397 with a .767 slugging percentage.
After being ripped by fans, Carlos Delgado has exploded and is now a viable MVP candidate. Since July 1, Delgado has hit .310 with 21 homers and 59 RBI.
This Mets team has survived the injuries and been through a managerial firing disaster and have come out looking good. They're playing solid baseball with a fire and passion that wasn't there last season, and players are stepping up to deliver when needed. This will carry them to the NL East crown.