If there is a Mets fan in your life, you have already seen the signs: the fatalistic sighs, the here-we-go-again looks. It is September, and the Mets are still in first place, by one skinny game over the Braves.
That lead was 10 ½ a long time ago, and seven not so long ago. The Braves are the baseball version of Lord Baltimore, Joe Lefors and the Superposse that chases Butch and Sundance all over Wyoming. You can almost see Buck Showalter peering through spyglasses with the same addled look he wears every time one of his players is plunked by a wayward pitch, muttering, “Who are those guys?”
But the Braves need no introduction to the Mets, same as the old fallbacks of fear and trepidation need no formal presentation to Mets fans. Well, I’m here for you. And here are 15 reasons you really should sit back, take a deep breath, and enjoy the next few weeks rather than endure them.
And the first reason is …
15. And the first reason is … 15: That’s the Mets’ magic number for clinching a playoff spot entering play Monday (after their Labor Day game with the Pirates was washed out in bone-dry Pittsburgh). Look, after spending most of the season in first place nobody wants to be bumped to the best-of-three wild-card crapshoot. Still, as the old lottery commercial said, you’ve got to be in it to win it. The Mets will be in it.
14. Fans: Fans endure for decades and pay every price, bear every burden, and meet every hardship. So yes, you may wear 1998, and 2007, and 2008, the worst examples of September Swoondom. But not one Met does — anywhere in the organization.
13. The Braves: The Braves are good. They are damn good. They are, after all, the defending champs. And somehow the Mets have kept their noses just ahead of the Braves’ despite the Braves being on something like a 157-win pace since June 1. If the Braves do catch and pass the Mets? It would be aggravating, sure. But would hardly constitute a collapse.
12. The Braves, Part 2: No matter how this shakes out, just dealing with the pressure of Atlanta’s daily pursuit ought to leave the Mets uber-ready for wherever their October kicks off, in the wild-card round or the NLDS.
11 & 10. Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer: Have they been brilliant? They have. Have then been untouchable? They have not. Would you still like to have them throw as many as two-thirds of a wild-card series, three-fifths of a division series, and four-sevenths of the NLCS or the World Series? You’d take your chances with that.
9. The schedule: OK, yes, the Nats served a sobering reminder that the games still must be played. And Puma the Great points out elsewhere in this package of stories that the Pirates, whom the Mets will try to play thrice between the raindrops the next few days, are 5-1 against the Dodgers. Baseball is weird. Still, if you had to pick a schedule, you’d be hard-pressed to pick a more user-friendly one than the Mets have.
8. The Braves, Part 3: Sure, in a perfect world, the Mets would have a magic number of about 1 — or less — when they head to Atlanta for games 157, 158 and 159 at the end of September. But even if they don’t? Why would you fear Truist Park? It is not Turner Field, which really did ruin a lot of Mets seasons. And the Mets are 9-7 against the Braves this year.
7 & 6 & 5. Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte and Pete Alonso: There have been offensive lulls this year; there has been a lull the past few weeks. But the Mets’ three best hitters have mostly been consistent in their production all year and all have shown the clutch gene in abundance — a useful tool for this time of year.
4. Chemistry: The Mets have it in abundance. That makes the clubhouse fun in the good times. More to the point, it makes a team relax in highly pressurized times.
3. Edwin Diaz: Unless we are presented testimony to the contrary, every Mets opponent needs to win the game by the eighth inning. That’s a huge advantage.
2. Buck Showalter: The Mets will have the checkmark in this matchup box for every game they play the rest of the season. That matters more now than any other time on the calendar.
1. The team: Look, you’ve watched them every day. You’ve seen how good they are. They can play with the Braves. They can play with the Dodgers. They can play with anyone. Are we guaranteeing a tour of the Canyon of Heroes? We’ll wait to get that carried away. But remember: this should be the fun time.
Would you rather be playing out the string, 17 ½ games out?