It’s been a whirlwind season for the New York Mets. After jumping out to a 13-3 record, Terry Collins’ squad faltered through a seven-game losing streak in June to drop below .500 and yet another playoff-less season appeared to be in the waiting.
But a punchless lineup sprung to life with some key trades, the promotion of a top prospect, the rebound of some slumping bats, and the return of a former superstar from injury. The starting pitching thrived with a collection of burgeoning stars, and the bullpen got a boost from their new closer and the addition of a steady veteran.
When the dust cleared, a once beleaguered organization finally rewarded their long-suffering supporters with a healthy dose of optimism. The Mets would capture the NL East crown, comfortably distancing themselves from an uninspired division.
On Friday, the Mets meet the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Divisional Series, and there is plenty of reason to believe that the Mets can advance. Las Vegas odds makers have both the Dodgers (92-70) and Mets (90-72) as 5/2 favorites to win the NL pennant.
A successful season that includes a postseason berth is a welcoming, albeit unfamiliar, feeling for an organization that was burdened by the cash-strapped Wilpon family, the owners who oversaw the Mets’ failure to finish a season with a .500 record since 2008. Season after season, the Mets failed to overachieve beyond their relatively meager payroll.
The improbable turnaround from the ghosts of seasons' past can be credited to a cast of impressive starting pitchers, with New York finishing with the fourth best earned-run averaged (3.43) in baseball and 101 quality starts. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom improved on his impressive form, with a 2.54 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 191 innings. For the first time since R.A. Dickey in 2012, the Mets seemed to have a highly reliable ace. DeGrom had a stretch between May 21 and June 25 when he started seven games and pitched seven innings or more, while yielding just seven total runs.
After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey threw 189 innings and finished with a 2.71 ERA. The Mets also received strong efforts from rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.
The bullpen also showed some life with hard-throwing Jeurys Familia recording 43 saves, third best in baseball. Rookie left-hander Sean Gilmartin didn’t allow a run for the entire month of June, and a trade for Oakland A’s veteran Tyler Clippard paid dividends with a stellar August.
However, the Mets’ bats might be the biggest story of the season. New York’s offense was nothing short of miserable during stretches but reinforcements flipped the script. What was once a lineup with limited depth suddenly became stacked with in-stride hitters. The runs began pouring in at the start of August when slugger Yoenis Cespedes joined the club in a trade with the A’s. The Cuban outfielder promptly hit eight homers in his first month with the team, and followed that with nine home runs in September.
It wasn’t just Cespedes who jolted the Mets offense. New York called up star prospect Michael Conforto, and the 22-year-old outfielder showed little trouble adjusting to the big leagues, hitting nine homers in 174 at-bats. Up-and-coming catcher Travis d’Arnaud effectively returned from a left elbow sprain and trades for veteran infielders Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe provided Collins with desperately needed lineup flexibility.
The long-awaited return of David Wright in late August was also a major boon for the offense. While the longtime Mets third baseman only had 152 at-bats, he made the most of them. Wright, who had missed 78 total games in 2013 and 2014, would finish with the team’s highest batting average (.289) and saw an uptick in his slugging percentage (.434) after a lackluster effort in 2014.
"It's bittersweet because I would have liked to have been here and played more games. But it is what it is," Wright told NJ.com. "You can either moan and whine about it and feel sorry for yourself or do what you can do to get back as quickly possible. I feel like that's the option that I had and it feels good to be able to celebrate."
Hitting became contagious for Collins’ squad, with second baseman Daniel Murphy breaking out of his July slump, and shortstop Wilmer Flores raising his batting average from .232 on July 1st to .263 by season’s end. Even light-hitting utility man Ruben Tejada surged in September with a .340 batting average.
When combined with the strong seasons of mainstays Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda, the once snake-bitten offense now looked like one of the most imposing collection of bats in the league. For all the early talk about the Dodgers and their potent lineup that includes consistent slugger Adrian Gonzalez, talented Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, and star-studded rookies Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, the Mets would finish ahead of Los Angeles in total runs, 683 to 667.
But defeating L.A. in a five-game series will be a difficult challenge. The Dodgers boast perhaps the best 1-2 combination in decades with superstar pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke each providing Cy-Young caliber seasons. Don Mattingly’s squad also has home-field advantage, and an excellent 55-26 record at Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile, the Mets’ pitching took a major dip in September (4.29 ERA) and Matz is slotted to start Game 4, if it’s necessary, despite just six career starts and a questionable status with a sore back.
While the Mets, and their eager fan base, have their eyes on a trip to the World Series, a reflection on the successes of the regular season is probably needed. All 15 ESPN experts predicted the Nationals would win the NL East, and no expert picked the Mets for the first wild-card spot, while only one (Pedro Gomez) picked the Mets for the second wild card.
“Remember how little talk there was in spring training about winning the division? It was almost like that wasn’t allowed, because Washington was in our division," Collins said. "When people talked about the playoffs, they talked about the two wild cards. Then spring training became the season. Then it was the summer. We were still there. We never let them get away and hide.”
In a season that exceeded all reasonable expectations, the Mets have already come a long way.