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Down the stretch they come: Mets' playoff odds looking good

With help from a weak closing schedule and a series of major upgrades, combined with a faltering squad in Washington, the Mets are primed to run away with the NL East

The Mets celebrate another victory.
The Mets celebrate another victory.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With an active trade deadline in the rearview, it’s time to look ahead to the new-look Mets' path to making all the acquisitions pay off. Of course, when a team trades prospects to upgrade one-third of its lineup and picks up two bullpen arms, "paying off" means at least making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Sweeping the division rival Nationals and Marlins over the last two series put the Mets in the NL East catbird seat, and after Friday’s results the Amazins are sitting 2.5 games up in the division race on Washington. It’s a good thing, too, because even with two Wild Card spots available, the Mets are staring up at three teams in that race—the Pirates, the Cubs, and the defending champion Giants.

Winning the division obviously is the goal, and given the current standings and the lineup upgrades an NL East title might be the default expectation. Should it be? The schedule says it should.

The Mets and Nationals have both played schedules so far that are in the bottom half of difficulty in the National League, with the Mets so far having played a slightly tougher slate. Nationals opponents to date have a .492 winning percentage compared to .496 for the Mets. Those figures include 13 head-to-head matchups of which the Mets have won seven.

Having a lead despite a tougher schedule is great. Even better is the remaining list of opponents for both teams—the Mets have the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NL. They also have six games left against the Nats, three in each team’s park.

Location, of course, is the elephant in the room. The Mets are winning at a .679 clip at home versus only .396 on the road after Friday’s win in Tampa. The Nationals' splits aren’t nearly so severe, as they’ve banked a winning percentage of .577 at home and .454 on the road. The Mets have 28 remaining road games to only 25 at home, while the Nationals have an apparent advantage with 29 home games and 25 on the road still to go.

Simply extrapolating the winning percentage splits over the balance of the season predicts the Mets to go 28-25 the rest of the way and the Nats to go 28-26, stretch runs that would leave the Mets two games up in the final standings. So much for that Washington advantage.

Recent trends also point in the Mets' favor. After having a great April—buoyed by an 11-game winning streak—the Mets were mediocre in May and June before heating up in July. The Nationals, on the other hand, went a blistering 18-9 in May and have gotten progressively worse in every month since.

The underlying reasons for the momentum shifts are also positives for the Mets. Both teams have dealt with key injuries—David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, and Michael Cuddyer for the Mets, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Denard Span for the Nationals—so both teams have help on the way as guys heal up.

The Nationals added a big piece at the deadline, snaring closer Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies. Washington did nothing to address its offense, though, which ranks 15th out of 30 MLB teams in scoring.

The Mets also addressed their bullpen deficiencies, but unlike their D.C. rivals the Mets upgraded their historically inept offense with two big trades. The Mets are also getting a big offensive boost from youngster Michael Conforto, another tangible upgrade that indicates the recent upswing is sustainable.

When taking in the whole picture, it is easy to be optimistic about the Mets taking this division, even if years—or, in some cases, a lifetime—of baseball disappointment suggest that we should instinctively feel otherwise.