Last July 31, the NL East standings looked like this:
Eight days into August of 2021, a far different picture was what fans like me woke up to:
So with a five-game series with the red-hot Braves looming beginning last Thursday night at Citi Field, and the Mets being chastised for not being as aggressive with trades as others were–even Atlanta–it was understandable that there was a looming sense of deja vu, particularly when one looks what the standings were on July 31 of this year:
And that was a slight improvement from earlier in July, when the Mets had seen what was once a 10.5 game lead shrink to half a game, as Atlanta hit the peak of a 39-14 pace in June and July that included a 14-game winning streak, while the Mets were merely mortal.
No, the Mets didn’t add Juan Soto, nor did they shore up their shaky middle relief. But they did, before the insanity of the August 2 trade deadline, significantly improve their DH and outfield depth, paying immediate dividends with Reds castoff Tyler Naquin, who homered twice in his first home game, and the addition of veterans Darin Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach as a DH platoon that not only has exceeded the performance of the mercurial J.D. Davis (traded to the Giants for Ruf), but has also produced a new folk hero for the portly in Vogelbach, who can best be described as the byproduct of a DNA experiment involving Rusty Staub and Bartolo Colon.
Despite a marginal batting average, Vogelbach is among the most effective batters in drawing walks–obviously his belly compromises the strike zone. When he scored from first base on a dash during Saturday’s doubleheader sweep, one could safely say they had not seen speed from someone of that weight within a 25-mile radius of Citi Field since Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes. (certainly not me).
Oh yeah, the Mets also saw the season debut of Jacob DeGrom. After a frustratingly 2021-like outing where he pitched five scoreless innings in Washington that the Mets, true to form, failed to score for him, his late Sunday afternoon outing against the Braves, in what was clearly a must game for them, was nothing short of phenomenal.
In his first 5 2/3 innings, DeGrom retired 17 of 17 batters and struck out 12. Yes, he then allowed a two-out walk and then a two-run homer by Dansby Swanson, so he wasn’t quite perfect in the box score. He struck out Austin Riley, just rewarded with a $212M, 10-year contract extension, twice. The Braves did not even make contact with one of his trademark sliders until the 19th one he threw.
Dominant? Uh, yeah.
So this August 8th, a look at the standings shows things being a bit more uplifting than last year:
No, it’s not yet a foregone conclusion that the Braves, or even the Phillies, are dead. Seven up with 17 to play in 2007 are six words I’ll never forget, and the Mets are looking at a series in Atlanta that now looms even more consequential for the Braves to serve notice in. They’re still quite likely to make the playoffs, and we know how they’ve performed there lately.
But, for now, the Mets are on top of the division, and with the Yankees in the midst of a five-game losing streak that all of a sudden has them looking a bit more mortal, they’re at least at parity in the city, A post-season road that could see them in both Dodger AND Yankee Stadium is certainly within reach.
I’d better start scouring for plastic bottles now. Seems like I might have a busy October ahead.