Test: What happens if the Mets throw Santana, Dickey and Niese at Miami?
Whether the New York Mets are still captivating their fans in September, and dare we say it, October, is beside the point right now.
They are 18-13. In a division featuring four of the top teams in the National League, the Mets have a 13-5 record, with sweeps already recorded over the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins and, most recently, the Philadelphia Phillies.
And the Mets are set to begin a showdown in Miami with those Marlins Friday night, with Johan Santana on the mound.
Realistically, this weekend's series will provide a test of strength for the Mets that those previous sweeps simply didn't.
The Marlins team New York swept at Citi Field last month wasn't playing nearly as well as it is now. The same was true of the Atlanta team New York swept to begin the season, as well as the Phillies team they just beat at Citizens Bank Park.
But Miami has found its footing (if not yet its closer) in the time since New York sent them home empty-handed following Jose Reyes' return. The Marlins have won eight of nine games. Giancarlo Stanton, the absurdly strong right fielder, has six home runs since April 29. The starting pitching, and the relief work outside of Heath Bell, has been dominant. A roster expected to do much has begun, at any rate, to live up to its preseason billing. Even Jose Reyes has been reaching base at a .400 clip over the past ten games.
The Mets are lined up as well as can be hoped, pitching-wise, for the three-game set, with Santana Friday, R.A. Dickey Saturday and Jon Niese on Sunday. They'll be throwing their three best pitchers at the Marlins, while the off day Thursday means the bullpen is rested and ready to go.
It's still going to be tough. Mark Buehrle, Friday night's starter for the Marlins, has a 2.83 E.R.A. so far this season. And his mark is also the highest of the three scheduled Miami starters in the series, with Saturday's Ricky Nolasco at 2.72, Sunday's Carlos Zambrano at 1.98.
But if the Mets can go in and beat a Miami team finally playing like a contender, the Mets could find themselves in, or near, first place in the National League East. (They are one game out right now, trailing Atlanta and Washington.)
It could be enough to start to fill Citi Field with fans who haven't quite believed what they've been seeing until now.