While they may not be the Amazins' of 1969, this year’s New York Mets have become a dark-horse postseason contender. In fact, they’re 29-16 since the start of July, good for a .644 winning percentage as of Aug. 27. The 1969 squad had a .621 percentage in those same months.
Despite this late-season surge, the Mets are desperately seeking a Wild Card seed as September approaches. “Big Time Baseball” hosts Jon Heyman and Josh Lewin were joined by Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen on this week’s episode to discuss the season to this point and what’s to come in the future.
“It’s been a rocky road so far,” Van Wagenen said. “The first half definitely wasn’t how we scripted it but it is very exciting and rewarding to see our players having turned it around and play[ing] great baseball in the second half… I think most importantly, we’re playing meaningful games here in August and hopefully in September where we can control our own destiny.”
Though they have faced a tough array of opponents recently, the Mets’ schedule certainly doesn’t get easier as they transition into September. Their next six series are all against .500 or better teams, including the first-place Dodgers and two division rivals, the Phillies and the Nationals.
However, the Mets are rolling through their second half of the season and should be considered just as threatening as any other National League presence. After Jon Heyman questioned which key factors helped to spur the Mets’ late-season push, Van Wagenen pointed to a few valuable pieces.
“I think a lot of it is related to what we tried to do in the offseason,” Van Wagenen said. “The team was built on the backs of our starting pitching and in the first half of the year we had a little bit of inconsistency in the starting rotation. We also set out to try to bolster the bullpen and we certainly had inconsistency in the bullpen performances and some health issues with guys not being available in the first half.
“Now that we look back on it, the starting pitching has stabilized to say the least. Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan coming back in the bullpen have been two huge pieces to that puzzle. Then we made a bold move, and not an easy one, to restructure our coaching staff from the pitching perspective.”
Van Wagenen referred to Phil Regan, Ricky Bones, and Jeremy Accardo joining the pitching coaching staff, and commented on the collaboration the three undergo in order to yield good results.
Another signing that has helped the Mets tremendously, as Josh Lewin mentioned in a comment to the general manager, was that of J.D. Davis. After batting a paltry .175 in Houston last season, the Mets scooped up Davis without much competition from other franchises.
He’s looked like an entirely new ballplayer in New York, hitting over .300 well into August with good power. He’s one of only 13 players in the National League (as of August 27) with a .300 average and a .500 slugging percentage, joining MVP-candidates Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich along with teammate Jeff McNeil/
“We really like J.D. Davis - we identified him as a target early in the offseason and believed that the bat could play at this level if he was either put in the right situation matchup-wise or if he got the playing time that enabled him to grow as a big leaguer,” Van Wagenen said. “To his credit, he’s seized the opportunity when we’ve experienced some adversity… and had the lion’s share of the at-bats in left field and he’s run with it. The offensive approach that he displayed in the minor leagues is something that has manifested itself here over the course of the last couple of months, and credit to him on earning and sustaining the performance.
The biggest name in the Mets offense, Pete Alonso, also required a key offseason decision in order to unleash his full potential.
“As you know we didn’t necessarily go out and buy an exclusive first baseman,” Van Wagenen said. “We gave [Pete] a clear runway and said, ‘Okay, Pete, you have an opportunity here. If you earn it in spring training, we’re not going to hold you back.’
“We think back to April… had we not had Pete we could’ve lost a few more games than we did in April and be four, five games worse than where we are right now, and that would have a dramatic impact on our playoff odds.”
Another key factor that Van Wagenen gave credit to was Mickey Callaway’s clubhouse presence through the ups and downs of 2019.
“He’s maintained the clubhouse,” Van Wagenen said. “Even through the adversity that we experienced in the first four months of the year, that clubhouse has remained united. They get along with each other. There’s chemistry from the veterans to the young kids, from the American-born players to the international players, and there’s been a unit that was created in spring training and was able to be sustained over the course of the season.
“I credit Mickey with being able to hold this group together and put us in the position where we are now.”
After discussing these aforementioned topics as well as players like Jeff McNeil, Wilson Ramos, Amed Rosario, and others, all that was left was for the hosts of the show to find out what it would take for the Mets to make the playoffs.
“First and foremost I think the key going forward is to continue to get the performances of the guys that we’ve had during this run,” Van Wagenen said. “If Rosario, (Juan) Lagares, and Ramos continue to give us offensive performances while giving us much-improved defense, I think those guys can be keys to the team as we try to support our starting rotation.
“We’re getting back guys that we envision being core members of our starting lineup and how those guys will join the team with J.D. Davis, Pete Alonso, and McNeil who have had great years. We’re pretty excited about where our offensive performance can be as we head into September and hopefully we can stay on this run.”
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