New York Mets squander soft schedule in September

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One of the supposed saving graces for the New York Mets after a brutally competitive August was that the schedule would lighten up significantly in September. After the Los Angeles Dodgers left town on the first, 24 of the Mets’ final 30 games were slated to be against second division teams, including a run of 16 straight games against the Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. The Mets squandered that soft landing period by going just 15-11 in September, allowing the Atlanta Braves to stay alive in the National League East race.

The problems started immediately as the Mets dropped three in a row against the Nationals and Pirates, culminating in a one-day drop out of first place in Miami. The Mets got back into first right afterwards but couldn’t build momentum right away after getting swept by the Cubs at home, a costly three-game series that has played a large role in keeping the division as close as it is right now. The good news is that the Mets did play better baseball after that, going 8-2 over their next ten games to push the division lead back to 1.5 games. Missed opportunities in Oakland and against the Marlins, combined with a loss in the opener of a critical series with the Braves in Atlanta, has left the NL East tied with just five games to go in the regular season.

The Mets did manage to lock up a playoff berth in the process of September, clinching in Milwaukee on September 19, and have secured at least home-field advantage in the Wild Card round. Avoiding that round would be ideal, however, since Starling Marte is still not back from a fractured finger that resulted from being hit by a pitch in Pittsburgh on September 6 and his slow healing may not leave him available for that series. The most likely opponent the Mets would draw in the Wild Card series would be the San Diego Padres, who went 4-2 against the Mets during the regular season, which is not ideal to say the least.

The Mets did get some solid performances throughout the month, including a huge effort from Eduardo Escobar, who hit .330 with eight home runs and 24 RBI to help carry the offense. Other standouts at the plate included Pete Alonso (.253/9/26, leading the team in both power categories), Jeff McNeil (.337/0/10), Tomas Nido (.333/3/9) and Francisco Lindor (.296/4/18), who became the first switch hitting shortstop to ever drive in 100 runs in a single season.

The Mets’ best pitcher in September was Max Scherzer, who dominated in his starts that came around a trip to the injured list. Scherzer went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in three September starts, earning his 200th win in Milwaukee as part of the Mets’ playoff clincher. The only other starter to stand out was Chris Bassitt, who went 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA in five starts and was generally dominant outside of one clunker against the Cubs. The bullpen also saw some key contributors step up, including Edwin Diaz (2 saves, 1.17 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 7.2 innings pitched), Mychal Givens (1-0, 0.00 ERA in five appearances), Adam Ottavino (1 save and a 2.61 ERA in 11 appearances) and Joey Rodriguez (2-0, 2.70 ERA in nine appearances).

There are just five games left in the regular season, including the last two in Atlanta before three at home against the Nationals. Any combination of four wins will help the Mets secure the division title since one victory against the Braves gives them the all-important tiebreaker by claiming victory in the season series. The Mets will also look to use these five games to get themselves tuned up for the playoffs as they bid to win their third World Series title in franchise history and the first since 1986.

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