As the MLB trade deadline arrives and passes, the New York Mets are quietly gathering pace to mount a challenge for a playoff spot despite not making a single move to add to an average offense or shore up a below-average pitching staff.
The Mets have already offloaded their biggest bat and strongest bullpen arm in a bid to plan ahead and protect the future, yet over the last two weeks, they're as hot as any club in baseball.
It's not accurate to say that the Mets have their fate in their own hands, but with one-third of the season still to play, it's certainly not impossible for the Mets to play meaningful baseball in September. Probable, no, but possible, absolutely.
I'm not too naive to think the Mets will win the NL East. They're already 12.5 games back and quite honestly, they don't deserve to be either first or second right now.
However, joint seventh place in the National League isn't all that worrying when you consider the fact that three of those teams will make the playoffs as division winners and that they're within three games of all except one of the other four teams ahead of them.
The Mets have nine games left with the Atlanta Braves and three each against the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks. That's 15 of 55 games against the three teams who currently sit second in their respective divisions. It's 15 games against teams standing between the Mets and the wild-card lead right now.
Of the rest of the games, the Mets face the first-place Philadelphia Phillies six times and the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers for a three-game set at Citi Field in mid-August.
Aside from the obvious importance of winning games against Philly, that series against the Brewers could be a pivotal point of the season.
There are two main reasons for this: firstly, the Brewers are only one game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for the division lead, the slimmest advantage in any division in the Majors. If the Brew Crew slip up, they will be the No. 1 contender to the Braves' current wild-card charge.
Secondly, that series against Milwaukee starts a stretch of nine games in 10 days that includes the Phillies on Aug. 22 and then the Braves on Aug. 26.
The Mets need to carry momentum into those games, and there's no better way to do that than to take two of three from Milwaukee or, better yet, sweep them before jumping on the bus to south Philly.
So, without micro-managing the schedule game by game, what do the Mets need to do to be successful?
The biggest bats need to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. That starts with Jose Reyes continuing his All-Star season and David Wright staying healthy. Really, it's an obvious point, but too often over the years, one or the other player has been below par.
Reyes has been a little slow since coming back off the DL, and he entered Saturday's game hitting .182 over his last five appearances. He's better than this, and the small sample size of post-injury at-bats isn't too much to worry about.
By contrast, Wright has been scorching since his return. He's not going to keep batting .480 and he's not going to get two hits every night, but as long as he doesn't go into an extended slump over the next two months, the Mets could stay competitive.
Hitting pitches middle-away will be key, considering that is one of the things he is doing unusually well right now.
Aside from the stars performing to the level we expect, Lucas Duda has big shoes to fill in right field and Daniel Murphy needs to provide some offense from the first base position.
Justin Turner has been a pleasant surprise, and anything he can bring to the table to add to his solid first impression in the Majors will be a welcome boost.
The starting rotation is unlikely to change unless Johan Santana makes a late-season comeback from his surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder last September.
Even then, it is being reported that he could join a six-man rotation for the remainder of the year. Still, there is always room for growth in the bullpen, especially as Terry Collins juggles the late-inning duties.
Finally, the Mets need to do better at home. A 22-26 record isn't going to get them into the playoffs, even if they're 33-25 on the road.
Too many things need to go right for the Mets to be serious contenders, but with two-thirds of the season in the books, who would have even said they'd be in with a shot? This is a team which is three games above .500, the same team that was often predicted to finish below .500 even with a healthy Wright and Ike Davis.
The Mets, much like the Pirates and Brewers above them, are overachieving right now. Sure, it's more likely than not that they fall away as the dog days of summer turn into the fall, but the fact remains that they're competitive when nobody said they would be.
Yes, a playoff spot is a pipe dream, but taking a series from the Braves here and another from the Brewers there could turn the wild-card race into a five-team dog fight.
There's plenty of baseball still to be played. Mets fans will hope that an improbable season will last a week or two extra.
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