Mike Vaccaro

Mike Vaccaro


Mets’ soft upcoming schedule a chance for revival to avoid being deadline sellers

It really shouldn’t be this way. A baseball team shouldn’t dawdle for two-plus months and still have an opportunity to rescue itself so dramatically. Generally speaking, if you play eight games under .500 across the first 64 games of a schedule, that’s a fair indicator of where you are, where you’ll be, what your season is going to look like.

And that may well be the case with the 2024 Mets.

But there is also a genuine sense that Tuesday night, when the Mets welcome the Marlins to Citi Field for the first of a three-game series, what’ll also be in play is Opening Day 2.0.

Somehow, despite all the ninth-inning nightmares, all the extended offensive brownouts, all the nights when one of the starters could look unhittable for a couple of innings and then unpitchable the next few, the Mets are only three games out of the wild card. That’s as much a testament to the so-far deplorable play that generally passes for National League baseball as anything else; the Cubs, Reds, Giants (at 32-34) and Cardinals (at 31-33) are presently tied for the last playoff slot.

Drew Smith reacts after Luis Torrens #13 of the New York Mets jumps over Garrett Stubbs #21 of the Philadelphia Phillies as he completes a double play on a ball hit by Nick Castellanos to end the 9th inning. The Mets defeated the Phillies 6-5. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But the fact is, deserved or not, the Mets have an opportunity here, and it’s one that seems real not only because they come in playing reasonably well (4-1 in their last five, including Sunday’s roller-coaster ride over the Phillies in London). It’s also because between now and just after the All-Star break they have a stretch of 35 games in which exactly two — the Yankees June 25 and 26 — will be against teams that entered play Monday over .500.

Now, this comes with a caveat, of course: All of those teams are looking at their coming games with the Mets as an opportunity to get right, too. That comes with the territory of being 28-36.

But it’s fairly simple math. If by the close of business on Monday, July 25, the Mets haven’t reversed their fortunes and reversed the way the National League standings look, then the flea market can begin in earnest. If they don’t seize this soft stretch of schedule, then there may not even be need to wait for July 25 to start moving players into the front yard like a baseball garage sale, and open the bidding.

“I am focused on winning games right now,” Mets owner Steve Cohen said in London on Sunday, before the Mets beat the Phillies 6-5 in the craziest manner possible. “We can worry about the trade deadline, that is seven weeks away, that is 45-50 games and a lot can happen so the focus right now is on the season and winning games and we’ll worry about [the trade deadline] when the time comes.”

You get the sense that Cohen is sincere about this, that he was shaken by the backlash last season when the Mets dove headfirst into sell mode, even if it was almost certainly the right thing to do. A person as competitive as Cohen, it goes against every instinct to wave a white flag that way. And it was especially gnawing when the Phillies blasted out of their own early futilities last year to end up nine innings from a second straight World Series.

Mets catcher Luis Torrens #13, throws to 1st base completing a double-play on a slow roller out in front of the plate, as Garrett Stubbs #21, slides into him, ending the game. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Phillies are a useful reminder, after all, of how long a baseball season really is. Two years ago they were 21-29 at their nadir, and five months later had a 2-1 lead in the World Series. Last year they were 25-32. Both times, they vaulted themselves back into contention with extended hot streaks in June — 15-2 two years ago, 13-2 last year.

New York Mets at London Stadium: A fan holds up a sign for the Mets after the final out of the 9th inning. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Can the Mets replicate that kind of streak, especially with Francisco Alvarez and Edwin Diaz expected back in the fold?

Put it this way: if it doesn’t happen now, it’s not going to happen, period.

If it doesn’t happen with this 35 game stretch — in which 33 will include seven against the Marlins (22-43), seven against the Nationals (30-35), four against the Pirates (31-34) and three apiece against the Padres (34-35), Rangers (31-34), Cubs (32-34), Astros (30-36) and Rockies (23-42) — then it’s a season that deserves to be blown up, with everything sold for parts.

The Mets talk every day like they don’t want that to happen. The owner would surely prefer a 35-game stretch that maybe looks like 23-12, maybe gets them back over .500, and maybe inspires legitimate hope to dust off that old standby, “meaningful September games.”

If it’s going to happen, it has to start now. Thirty-five games for relevance. The Mets are officially on the clock.