For the Mets to lock up the National League East, they’ll need the players that got them this far to carry them home.
It’s an obvious sentiment, but it’s also most of what drives professional sports. The best teams are often the ones that have the best players, who in turn perform like they are indeed the best players. In the Mets’ clubhouse, that means five or six guys, two of which will have to come off the injured list before delivering the team to glory.
Max Scherzer, the first of the injured stars, is apparently ready to go for Monday. His manager identified that date early in the week, stuck to it after Scherzer’s rehab start on Wednesday, and on Friday said that Scherzer’s demeanor in the clubhouse has made it clear that he’ll be ready.
“I can tell by his face as soon as he comes through the door,” Buck Showalter said. “He’s getting ready for Monday. So far, so good.”
Getting Scherzer back is a huge first step in outracing the Braves to the top of the NL East mountain. Slotting him into the rotation on Monday also means the Mets should get at least three more regular season starts out of the three-time Cy Young winner, including one that could potentially happen in Atlanta during the last road series of the year.
Starling Marte’s injury is a little harder to figure. Showalter has been big on reminding reporters that Marte does in fact have a broken finger, something that makes both swinging a bat and throwing a baseball quite difficult. While his name doesn’t carry as much cache as some of his more high-profile teammates, Marte has been just as integral to the team’s success. His batting average (.292) is second among Mets’ qualified hitters behind Jeff McNeil while his 18 stolen bases lead the team.
His presence in the two-hole of the lineup has also helped leadoff man Brandon Nimmo see more pitches to hit, and Marte hitting ahead of Francisco Lindor has led to many of the shortstop’s 94 RBI. Marte is eligible to come off the 10-day IL as of Saturday, but with very little updates on that front, it looks like his triumphant return will have to wait.
As such, the other big boppers in the lineup will have to rise up. Lindor is heating up at the right time. In his last 17 games, dating back to the first game of the Mets’ home series against the juggernaut Dodgers, Lindor is slashing .288/.356/.485. All of those numbers are improvements over his season-long marks, and one more double in September will match the most he’s had in any month of the season.
The only concern with Lindor right now might be that he naturally cools off in the final two weeks. If that does happen, he’ll experience the inverse of Pete Alonso’s month at the plate. Alonso went 1-for-11 in that Dodgers series with four strikeouts. After hitting a homer in the subsequent series opener against Washington, he then went hitless for the next three games. But since then, the Polar Bear’s claws have come back out.
For the last ten games, Alonso has replaced his bat with a sledgehammer. That span includes 13 hits, three homers and seven RBI. Alonso has a casual .333/.386/.590 slash line in this gilded run, good for a .976 OPS. While it’s a very small sample, so is the rest of the season. Even if he comes down a bit, keeping Alonso near this level he’s currently at bodes well for the Mets’ chances of hanging their first NL East banner since 2015.
Lindor and Alonso have been a constant headache for opponents all season, while Scherzer and Marte’s fantastic seasons have been interrupted by injury. Somewhere in the middle of that is Jacob deGrom, who got off to a delayed start, but thankfully hasn’t been interrupted at all in his path toward reclaiming the Best Pitcher in the World throne.
One of many unfortunate truths about deGrom’s career is that he hasn’t pitched in a ton of big games since 2015 and 2016, which were his second and third years in the league. In his first eight years with the Mets, deGrom played for five teams that finished with a losing record. That is no longer the case, and he will soon get a chance to break out his dusty postseason cape from the back of the closet.
Before that, though, he has to show that he can also be a superhero in his final starts of the regular season. As the season’s hourglass ticks away and the margin for error becomes even smaller, deGrom’s role takes on a much more important status. With free agency on the horizon at the end of the year too, and deGrom’s stated intention of opting out of his contract to explore that free agency, a lot of money is also on the line between now and November.
Marte is the only question mark here as far as playing time. Scherzer, Lindor, Alonso and deGrom will all factor extremely heavily in this rabid quest to finish ahead of Atlanta. If any of them go ghost, the ensuing quest for a World Series championship will start in the wild card round, making things much harder for both the superstars and their role-playing teammates.