Buckle up, fans of the New York Mets. Your team is about to take you on a World Series ride.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Not this year. Not this group. Not this manager. Anybody who tells you that he predicted back in March that the 2015 Mets would win the National League East is probably lying to your face. Even supposed Mets “homers” weren't allowing themselves to get caught up in any hype at the end of last winter.
These are not the '06 Mets. That team was undeniably the best in the division. Those Mets should have won Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. Those Mets would have won the World Series against any American League opponent from that year. Those Mets should have been the start of a dynasty.
The Mets from this past spring were never supposed to catch up with the Washington Nationals before the fall months. While the Nationals were the uncrowned division champions at the start of the Major League Baseball season, the Mets were about to go through a campaign that would largely be about the team making a decision on the fate of manager Terry Collins. Heck, even general manager Sandy Alderson was, in the eyes of some fans, on the hot seat six months ago.
That seems like a different lifetime ago.
Fate has smiled upon the Mets over the past two months in a way that has, in the past, been experienced by the other New York baseball team. In some alternate universe, the trade of Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez goes through on the night of July 29. Gomez is damaged goods when he arrives to the Mets, the clubhouse is deflated by the trade of Flores and the Mets crumble apart as the Nationals ascend to the top of the division standings.
That didn't happen. Disaster did not strike the Mets this time around. The death of the Gomez deal opened up the possibility of the Mets acquiring outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and the team pulled the trigger on that trade before the July deadline. Cespedes has been a revelation of a rental player, helping convert the Mets from a postseason contender to a team that could legitimately win a World Series.
How great has Cespedes been in orange and blue? He would, in a fair world, be a Most Valuable Player candidate even though he has only been with the Mets for a third of the season. Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post mentioned this very fact in a piece that was published on September 10:
Of course, in the 36 games since joining the Mets, he has an absurd .675 slugging percentage and an OPS of 1.032 with 14 homers and 36 RBIs. He is not a perfect player by any stretch, swinging at too many fastballs in his eyes, overrunning that ball in the outfield the other night. But the Mets have won 25 of those games. They have gone from down two to up seven on the Nationals after Wednesday night’s sweep-finishing victory at Nationals Park.
His value is inarguable.
Cespedes has, in 53 appearances for the Mets (h/t ESPN), hit 17 home runs. He has driven in 44 RBI. No player in the NL has represented an injection of life into a club as has Cespedes since early August. Bryce Harper will probably win MVP, if only because he was with the Nationals on Opening Day. That's fine.
Harper can accept the award from his couch while he is watching the Mets play October baseball.
As Amazin' (pun intended) as Cespedes has been, the story of David Wright has been even more incredible. Concerns about Wright potentially being permanently sidelined by spinal stenosis have been replaced with highlights featuring the living Mr. Met crushing five home runs and delivering 17 RBI in 34 games played (h/t ESPN). Those numbers are nice, but anybody who has followed the Mets since 2004 knows that Wright means far more to the club than what he contributes to the lineup and in the field.
Watch videos of the Mets celebrating after defeating the Cincinnati Reds to clinch the division title last Saturday. Teammates, one by one, approached and embraced Wright. The poor guy couldn't even get through a single postgame interview with SNY without having champagne dumped on his head multiple times. No other NL team has that kind of emotional presence inside of the clubhouse.
Those looking to crush the dreams of Mets fans may point out that New York could have to face Cy Young candidates Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opening stages of the postseason. That would be a difficult road to travel for any opponent. The Mets won't be entering that shootout with rubber bullets. Noah Syndergaard can be dominant so long as he avoids giving up home runs. Jacob deGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, has ice in his veins. Matt Harvey has embraced his role as “The Dark Knight” by silencing talk about his workload being limited for the time being.
The bullpen of the Mets is about to get stronger. Jonathon Niese, who should get some relief work during the final week of the season so long as the weather cooperates, will give the New York 'pen the left arm it has been missing. Bartolo Colon, at 42 years old and with 14 wins this year (h/t ESPN), could provide backup if needed. Jeurys Familia may make fans chew on their fingernails from time to time, but the closer of the Mets is third in the NL in saves this season (h/t ESPN).
It would be inaccurate to say that there are not several reasons to doubt the Mets in October. Both Kershaw and Greinke have notched wins over the Mets this season (h/t MLB.com). As Robert Pace of FOX Sports explained, NL Central foes the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs defeated the Mets 17 out of 20 times in 2015.
The Mets, as Pace also wrote, have been a different team since acquiring Cespedes:
It's not just Cespedes that makes the Mets' lineup dangerous. Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and captain David Wright have come up big in spurts this season, and they lead a Mets offense that also has the highest OPS in the NL in the second half of the season.
Wright has struggled through enough losing seasons in New York, and will do everything in his power to ensure he and his teammates make the most of their postseason run.
Think back to the 2009 postseason. It was then when Alex Rodriguez shook his postseason demons and became the best hitter of the postseason. No version of A-Rod ever had the emotional attachment to the New York Yankees that Wright has to the Mets. Wright knows this may be his last chance at winning a World Series before his body betrays him one final time. The veteran leadership and will to win that Wright will bring to the Mets are intangibles that cannot be measured in any statistic.
All that has occurred within the organization since 2006 has been leading up to the Mets once again playing meaningful October baseball. Carlos Beltran striking out in Game 7. The collapse of 2007. The Yankees winning a World Series when the Mets were an afterthought in their own city. Flores crying in the infield. Trading for Cespedes. The story can fittingly only have one ending.
Why will the Mets be unstoppable in the postseason? Because no other NL team is an unbeatable force. Because the Mets can go blow for blow with any opponent that it will face leading up to a World Series. Because these players have rallied around their manager and around Captain Wright. Because Citi Field will be rocking like never before the first time it hosts a playoff game.
Most of all, the Mets will be unstoppable because they still don't know that they were never supposed to be in the first place.