The series, not the season, though at times over the past four days it certainly felt like the latter. So much went wrong for the Mets in this series that I'm almost relieved that they only lost four games; it seems like they should have lost six or seven over the past four days. Their postseason outlook is decidedly less rosy than it was on Monday and at this point I am truly excited just to be putting this series behind us. No good can come out of further lamenting the missed opportunities or the way the offense vanished into thin air against one of the world's worst collection of pitchers in a positively tiny ballpark. We need to move on.
The Mets need to pull themselves together and consider themselves lucky that this disaster happened at the end of August instead of a month from now (or six weeks from now, as happened last postseason). The Mets are a very good team; not a great team, and probably not even as good as last year's team, but they are still one of the few best clubs in the National League. They sure didn't play like it in Philadelphia, but even very good teams go through stretches like this. Unfortunately, this horrid string happened against a division rival that they now find nipping at their collective cleats.
It's hard to consider the silver lining after the wretch-fest we just endured, but the truth is that the Mets are still in a pretty good position to win the division when the regular season draws to a close a month from now. Here's why:
The offense can't possibly be this bad for very long. Despite erupting for ten runs in the final game of the series, the Mets' sixteen total runs in four games are still well below the per-game average at Citizen's Bank Park of 5.2 runs. Jose Reyes had probably his worst series of the whole season and David Wright was the only one who really hit with any consistency throughout. Paul Lo Duca continues to make the decision regarding his future in New York easier by the day. He currently sports the eighth-worst OPS among National Leaguers with at least 375 plate appearances, and his atrocious work behind the dish in Philly makes his candidacy for a spot with the 2008 Mets a long shot at best.
They are still in first place. A six game lead was much comfier than a two game one, but two games is better than no games which itself is better than being in second place or worse. Losing the way they did against the Phillies is demoralizing for a team as well as a fan base, but it was only four regular season games in August and there is plenty of baseball left to play. Right now it may feel like a foregone conclusion that the Mets have been usurped as kings of the NL East and that the Phillies will now march inexorably towards the postseason for the first time in 14 years. However, a lot can happen in a month and the Mets are probably still considered the frontrunners.
Reinforcements are on the way. Well, reinforcement, singular, to be more specific. Within the next week the Mets are expected to activate Pedro Martinez from the disabled list to pitch in a big league game for the first time in almost a year. A year off is an awful long time for a pitcher to go without facing major league hitters, but Pedro isn't just any old pitcher. He saved this franchise from the depths of irrelevancy three years ago and the Mets could probably use his help right about now. Nobody is looking to him as a savior of this season, but even a rusty Pedro Martinez has to be considered a colossal upgrade over Brian Lawrence at this point. Keep in mind that the Mets will be replacing their fifth-best pitcher with one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the sport. Pedro won't help much with the bat, which may be where the Mets really need a kick in the shorts, but he will help. A lot.
Complacency is not a good thing. The Mets rolled into the postseason last year with a huge division lead. They dispatched the Dodgers in the LDS in three quick games before moving on to face the seemingly-overmatched Cardinals in the LCS. Things went south from there, and you can certainly make an argument that if the Mets had been challenged more earlier in the season that they would have been better prepared for the adversity that met them in the playoffs. Well, enter adversity, boys.
Tight races are exciting. As nice as it is for a team to steamroll their way to a championship, the taste of victory is even more satisfying when the road to it is littered with debris. A four-game playoff sweep is great, but a seven-game nail-biter in which your team still comes out ahead is even more rewarding. The risk you take for that reward is that your team may ultimately lose that series. If they prevail,though, the spoils are that much sweeter.
That's it. On Friday the Mets roll into Atlanta for another big series and a chance to start putting the pieces of their once-promising season back together. All hope is not lost; there are plenty of opportunities left in the coming weeks, and the Mets just have to go out there and make the magic happen. They suddenly find themselves in a bitter cage match for the division title that seemed to be a lock just a few games ago. Perhaps a little competition will light a fire under them, and us.