Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Contending Mets' Playoff Destiny Could Be Decided By Success At Citi Field

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway. Photo by Jason Schott.

In the classic baseball movie "Major League," there's a scene where the Cleveland Indians are shooting an American Express ad and after the players say nobody recognizes them, their Manager Lou Brown says, "we're contenders now!"

The Mets could have expressed that sentiment on Monday night after their doubleheader sweep of the Miami Marlins when they crossed the barrier over the .500 mark.

This cemented their spot in the postseason race, as they are 57-56, just 2-1/2 games behind fellow National League East teams, the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies -who were both 59-53 through Monday - for the top wild card spot.

In between the Mets and their division rivals are the St. Louis Cardinals (58-53) and Milwaukee Brewers (58-56), and then right behind the Mets are the Arizona Diamondback and San Francisco Giants, who are both 56-57.

Interestingly enough, too, the Mets are now just 8 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the divisional race.

So, the question is, with seven teams within 3-1/2 games of each other for the Wild Card, what could be the difference-maker?

For the Mets, that answer lies with the fact that, starting Tuesday, they have 31 games remaining at Citi Field, where they are 30-20 this season.

Their 50 home games through Monday are the fewest for any National League team, and the fact that despite playing 63 on the road (27-36) makes their 57-56 record a bit more impressive.

Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said of that in his pregame press conference on Tuesday afternoon, "I pay attention to some of that stuff, and not just that, but if you look at our schedule, it's been a tough one, up until recently, obviously, but everyone has the same schedule. We've played pretty much the same teams, and it's nice to know we have a majority of our home games left.

"I think at one point the Phillies had played way more home games than we had (they have played 60 at home through Monday, 10 more than the Mets). I'm glad we're playing well at home and I'm glad the majority of them that are left are at home, and hopefully, we can continue that pace and do something special."

Callaway said of what's been different for the Mets at home this season, "I think it's the fans and the comfortableness of us being here at home. It's hard to explain; we were looking for reasons on why they haven't performed here in the past. I'm just glad that has shifted.

"It's always - and we've talked about this a lot - it's always hard to identify why a team or a player does good on the road or at home, but I really feel this is a comfortable place. This is a great field, our fans are great, and that's probably the main reason, I would guess."

On if there's anything he can point to that they worked on in spring training to improve their play at Citi Field, Callaway said, "The one thing I thought we could stress is spray the ball around a little bit, just not sit up there and try to hit homers, but we've hit more homers," he said with a chuckle.

"But, you know, a lot of times, that's the way to hit better, is not try to do something - just play the game and you end up doing better in those spots that you're actually trying to do anyway. It's just like pitching; it's the same way. It's like hitting a golf ball. If you don't try to hit it very far, you end up hitting it further than when you try to hit it far, so maybe that's what's going on. I'm glad we're playing good at home, and hopefully we can continue to play good on the road as well, like we have been lately."

In looking ahead at the Mets schedule, they host the Nationals for a three-game set this weekend, and then, in two weeks, they have a nine-game homestand against the Cleveland Indians from August 20-22, the Braves August 23-25, and the Cubs from August 27-29.

Callaway said of the importance of locking in these wins against the Marlins with tougher home games coming up, "We're trying not to pay attention to that, just win today and then win tomorrow. We know what's lying ahead, but you've just got to go out and play baseball the right way and try to win today, and I think this team has done a really good job of that this year, and been able to put themselves in a good position, especially with the way we started the season, or the way the middle of the season went for us, it was tough. They just kept on focusing on the next pitch, focusing on the next game and put themselves in a pretty good position."

Callaway also said of his team's approach throughout the season, "The hardest thing in life is to stick with the process, right. You have to trust that you're doing the right thing, you have to stay even-keeled as best you can - obviously there's always going to be circumstances that are even tougher to deal with - and the players have done all of those things. They've never lost their enthusiasm and they trust each other, and that's another big thing.

"Hey, look, the only thing we've done to this point is gotten above .500. We have a long way to go, but if we keep on sticking with the approach, and then the processes that we've had, and adjusting them when need be, I still feel like we can do something special, but we have to go do it like we have been lately."

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