As a very short, wet, and rainy home stand comes to an end, the New York Mets should feel very confident going into Yankee Stadium this weekend to face their rivals from across the river. After an extremely disappointing extra-inning loss on Monday night to the Florida Marlins and a rainout on Tuesday night, the Mets rebounded by sweeping a two-game set from the Washington Nationals, and they are finally starting to look like a team that can compete in the National League.
Now, over a quarter way through the season, a team that many believed would be out of contention from the start is only one game below .500 and just 5.5 games behind the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies as of Thursday afternoon. Despite losing both third baseman David Wright and first baseman Ike Davis in the past week to injuries, the Mets have been winning as of late with their pitching. On Wednesday night, Jon Niese had an outstanding game in flood-like conditions throwing 7.0 shutout innings and striking out seven, and when the sun came out on Thursday afternoon, Dillon Gee one-upped Niese by throwing 7.2 shutout innings while allowing two hits and three walks.
Of course, the Mets still have several holes in their roster, evidenced by their lack of offense. Over the last three games, they have only scored a total of five runs and it has been against mediocre-pitching at best. They are clearly struggling without three of their best hitters in Pagan, Davis, and Wright, and despite the production that call-ups like Justin Turner and Jason Pridie have provided, the current lineup does not look like it can compete throughout the summer. However, this does not mean the Mets should be fearful going into the Bronx this weekend. Since starting out 5-13, they have gone 16-9, showing an ability to survive even without some of their regular starters. In addition to the starting pitching, the bullpen has been incredible, particularly Jason Isringhausen, who is tied for second in the National League in holds (10), and Francisco Rodriguez who currently has a 0.79 ERA and 14 saves.
While the Mets continue to improve every day though, many fans and the media choose to remain skeptical. Though, in an interview with David Lennon, who covers the Mets for Newsday, he said players feel quite the opposite: "Players try to be as optimistic as anyone. One of their main goals is to not listen to the outside influences. A lot of people at the beginning of the year had them in fourth or fifth place, but players don't look at it that way. While they realize they're not as stocked as some of the stronger teams in the division, they all expect to have good seasons and they all expect to stay within reach and contend for a playoff spot."
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think this kind of mentality the Mets clubhouse seems to have starts with the manager, Terry Collins, who has clearly instilled a winning attitude in these players. "Collins made it a point at the beginning of the season to really get to know the players in the clubhouse. He is very high beat and very motivated, and the players have responded to that enthusiasm," Lennon said.
This is a very different team from the operation that Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel ran, and it is starting to show. I am very much looking forward to this weekend, as I think it will be a great test for this team. While I hate to use the phrase "must-win" for any series or stretch of games in May, I do believe how the Mets perform over the next few days could be a very good indicator of how they will do down the stretch. For the first time in a long time, the Mets have a shot to end a series over the .500 mark, and I expect them to take full advantage.