On July 12, the first day after the All-Star break, the New York Mets lost 8-4 to Miami and their record dropped to 40-51, making them a team that most thought would hit the trade market as a seller as the July 31 deadline arrived.
Pitchers Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard were going to be on the move. That would give the Mets a chance to make up for the disastrous offseason acquisitions of Robinson Canó, who wasn’t hitting and is on the injured list, and closer Edwin Díaz, who doesn’t look anything like the save machine he was with Seattle, not with a 5-plus ERA.
Instead, the Mets traded two top-rated prospects to Toronto for starter Marcus Stroman in an attempt to re-stock for 2020.
Even Stroman, hoping to land in New York pinstripes, complained that he wasn’t dealt to a contending team. If not the Yankees, he would have preferred the Astros, who added Zack Greinke instead.
It turns out the Mets were actually thinking about 2019.
They are in the hunt for a National League wild-card spot, along with division rivals Philadelphia and Washington.
Maybe there will be a chaotic race among NL East teams after all.
The Mets, who play the Nationals this weekend in New York, beat Miami 7-2 Wednesday afternoon, giving them 13 wins in 14 games.
Their streak includes series wins against the Marlins (twice) and the Padres. They lost a series to the Giants, but they swept the Twins, Pirates and White Sox.
Easy schedule? Certainly.
The Mets’ schedule is challenging the rest of August. In their next six series, the Mets play the Braves in two series and one each against the pitching-rich Cubs and Indians, the contending Phillies and the rebuilding Royals.
The Mets’ strength was always going to be their rotation. It just took a few months to get it all together.
Syndergaard, who struggled with grips of his secondary pitches in the first half, has a 1.78 ERA since the All-Star break. Jacob deGrom is at 1.09 and has a chance to win a second consecutive NL Cy Young Award.
Wheeler is at 1.35 and appears to be on the verge of putting together a strong final two months, much as he did last season. Stephen Matz is at 3.57 and Stroman had a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts for the Blue Jays.
For now, it’s fair to argue the Mets have the strongest rotation among NL playoff contenders, even better than the Dodgers, who have Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu as their first three. The Cubs have a strong five with Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels, although Lester was hammered for 11 runs in four innings by the Athletics Tuesday night.
The thought here is that the Braves, leaders in the NL East, could have a thin rotation for the final weeks. That would mean the Mets and the Nationals, if the latter can get Max Scherzer back from the injured list, have a chance to catch Atlanta.
But if the Mets or Nationals were wild card teams, they’d be sitting well, much like when the Giants used Madison Bumgarner in a wild-card game.
No team wants to face Strasburg or Scherzer in a one-game playoff.
And what team would want to bat against deGrom or Syndergaard in a one-game situation.