Riding emotional wave, Mets enter September with playoff hopes alive

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Javier Baez Francisco Lindor Michael Conforto TREATED
Javier Baez Francisco Lindor Michael Conforto TREATED

When Javier Baez raced around third base and slid head first into home to cap off a wild, five-run outburst in the ninth inning on Tuesday afternoon against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field, the Mets had an ending that wouldn't have been believed if it were scripted.

That ending followed two days where Baez and Francisco Lindor were embroiled in a players against the fans fiasco that resulted in both Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen condemning the players, led to explanations and apologies from Baez and Lindor, and overshadowed what actually mattered most.

What mattered most, of course, was that the Mets -- the NL East leaders for most of the season -- had stumbled so badly in August that they found themselves nearly out of the playoff race before September began.

But if Tuesday afternoon's win was the one that flipped the script on the Mets against the fans controversy (turn those thumbs around!) then Tuesday night's win was one where the sideshow went away and baseball was again front and center.

And with baseball again the main focus, the Mets -- at 65-67, winners of four games in a row, and having made up a chunk of their deficit in the NL East over the last few days -- enter September with a chance.

That the Mets' struggles in August were so bad that they've gone from being in the driver's seat for the NL East title to simply having a chance to make a run at the playoffs is maddening. That goes without saying.

But the Mets cannot erase what happened. They can only go forward with 30 games left and some hope still remaining that they can reach the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Entering play on Sept. 2, the Mets find themselves 5.0 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East and 5.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds (4.0 in the loss column) for the second Wild Card.

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) slides safely home with the tying run on a sacrifice fly by third baseman J.D. Davis (28) during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.
New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (20) slides safely home with the tying run on a sacrifice fly by third baseman J.D. Davis (28) during the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.

The 5.0 game deficit in the division is still substantial, but it's a hell of a lot better than being 8.0 games back, which is where the Mets found themselves on Aug. 27.

New York was off on Wednesday due to another postponement (shocker) that will result in yet another doubleheader (what else is new) as the Braves were swept by the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Atlanta now heads to Colorado for a series against the Rockies, who are 43-22 at home this season.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies -- who are between the Mets and Braves in the standings -- were postponed on Wednesday. They now travel to Miami to face the Marlins and Milwaukee to face the NL Central-leading Brewers.

The Mets will complete their series against the Marlins on Thursday before heading to Washington, D.C. for a five-game series against the Nationals, who continue to run on fumes after trading most of their key players away at the deadline.

This 14-game stretch the Mets are in the midst of against the Nationals and Marlins (they're 4-1 so far), remains New York's chance to make their move in the division and in the playoff picture overall.

They have already erased a chunk of their NL East deficit and will likely have a chance to cut into it more between Thursday and Monday.

Aug 31, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) delivers against the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning at Citi Field.
Aug 31, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz (39) delivers against the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning at Citi Field.

But the Mets will have to do a lot of winning to give themselves a legitimate shot here.

How much winning?

At 65-67, the Mets would have to go 19-11 to finish with 84 wins.

For the Braves to finish with 84 wins, they would have to go 14-16 down the stretch.

The Phillies would have to go 16-14.

So the Mets should be shooting for more than 84 wins.

It should also be noted that after the Mets finish their stretch against the Marlins and Nats, things will get a lot tougher, with series after that against the Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Brewers on tap.

The Mets will also have what could be a huge series against the Phillies at Citi Field starting on Sept. 17.

Aug 12, 2021; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) celebrates with teammates after hitting a three run home run during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Aug 12, 2021; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) celebrates with teammates after hitting a three run home run during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.

What could be the Mets' biggest series of all will be against the Braves in Atlanta from Oct. 1 to Oct. 3 in the final series of the regular season.

For that series to matter, the Mets will have to be 3.0 games back or fewer, which doesn't seem like that tall of a task at the moment.

Just as the Mets have failed to distinguish themselves, the Braves (by losing five of their last seven games) and Phillies (who have had serious problems beating the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks) have done the same.

So while the Mets almost buried themselves, the struggles of the Braves and Phillies combined with a recent Mets surge have kept New York's hopes alive. In the NL East in 2021, time is a flat circle.

Aug 24, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) throws the ball to New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (not pictured) grounds out during the first inning at Citi Field.
Aug 24, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets second baseman Javier Baez (23) throws the ball to New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (not pictured) grounds out during the first inning at Citi Field.

To be clear, the Mets still have a tough challenge ahead of them. Making up a 5.0 game deficit with 30 games left will not be easy. But it is certainly possible. And things could come into focus even more if the Mets have a big weekend against the Nats.

Do the Mets have it in them?

There are reasons to believe, such as the resiliency they showed earlier this season and recently, the best defense in baseball, an awakening from Michael Conforto, and a bullpen that has been fantastic.

There are also reasons to doubt their chances, such as the offense as a whole, a rotation still without Jacob deGrom, and a schedule that will get a lot tougher soon.

But with the calendar flipping to September, the Mets still have a chance.