Mets sense tides turning as stretch run begins

Mets sense tides turning as stretch run begins

NEW YORK -- The Citi Field news blotter has been unrelenting for most of this season. One day, David Wright is done for the year. Then it's Matt Harvey. One night, Asdrubal Cabrera might be ailing. Or Steven Matz. Or Neil Walker. Or any other number of others. Injuries have struck down the Mets' superstars and sometimes-stars alike.

Yet here the Mets stand as September begins, with 29 games to go, a very real contender in the National League Wild Card race. It seems despite everything -- including a heaping dose of common sense -- the defending NL champions are not interested in going down without a fight.

"We're happy with the way the team's played over the last 10 games," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We've got another 10 that we have to focus on, and another 20 after that. Things can change over a 10-day period or a 10-game period, as we've seen. I like our chances."

Already, the Mets have waded past the most treacherous segments of their schedule. Following a three-game series this weekend against the Nationals, the Mets will play 12 of their next 15 games against three last-place teams: the Reds, Braves and Twins. Six games loom against the fourth-place Phillies, who have already begun the process of shutting down young pitchers with an eye toward next year.

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That's not to say things will come easy for a Mets club missing Wright, Harvey, Walker, Lucas Duda, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares and others for the rest of September. It's just to say a club that was 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot as recently as Aug. 19 won't need to work as hard as some others to make up ground.

"We've played good teams and played them well," manager Terry Collins said. "So we're very optimistic that we can continue this."

September callups will also mean more for the Mets than most teams, for two reasons. One is Michael Conforto, the Opening Day starter in left field who slumped badly throughout the summer, but has since recovered to post a gaudy stat line at Triple-A Las Vegas. Even if Conforto only gives the Mets limited at-bats off the bench, he becomes another weapon at Collins' disposal.

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The other reason is the simple fact that injuries have sliced this Mets team into tatters. Forgetting those players who are done for the year, the Mets are battling on a daily basis to keep a healthy team on the field, trying to give Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes extra rest whenever they can. A few extra bodies on the bench will help.

It's not as if the Mets are foreign to this type of situation. It was only a year ago that they shocked baseball with their late-season run, not only making the playoffs but riding their wave all the way to the World Series.

There's a quiet confidence around Flushing that they can do it again.

"I'm satisfied that we've done what we can to make sure that we're as competitive as possible," Alderson said. "Given everything that's happened over the course of this season, I think we're in a good spot. If we continue to play the next 30 days the way we've played the last 10, we'll be in good shape."

The road ahead

A team struggling through injuries will at least receive a reprieve via the September schedule. The Mets' schedule is among the easiest of any contender, with series against the last-place teams in four different divisions.

Home games: 14

Road games: 15

Games vs. teams over .500: 10

Two key series: Sept. 12-14 at Nationals; Sept. 26-28 at Marlins

Help on the way? An Opening Day starter, Conforto was a Sept. 1 callup. Matz could return to the rotation in early to mid-September.

Cause for concern: The club is running on fumes, with several stars long since done for the year. Health will be the Mets' defining factor, particularly in their rotation.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.