10:42 am Sep. 13, 2012
Just two weeks ago, the New York Mets set course for a diminished, but potentially achievable goal: third place in the National League East.
There'd be no playoff appearance to go with it, but simply finishing ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins was goal enough for Mets management.
At the time the Mets were only two games back. Then the Mets went out and won their first two games against the Phillies. Entering the games of August 30, the two teams were tied at 61-69, ten games back of the final wild card spot, but ready for a final month of battling for a meaningless distinction.
Then things went wrong, again.
Since August 30, the Mets are 4-9. The Phillies are 11-2. They're actual in contention for the real playoffs, just three games behind the Cardinals for that final wild card spot. The two other teams ahead of the Phillies, the Dodgers and the Pirates, are on significant losing streaks. And with an easy upcoming schedule (four at Houston against the Astros, three at Citi Field next week against the Mets) it isn't hard to picture the Phillies near the wild card lead a week from now.
This makes some sense. The Phillies were dogged by injuries earlier this year, but have most of their important players back. Ryan Howard is struggling, but Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are wringing some additional value out of their veteran bodies, and the starting pitching does include a big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, after all.
The one upside for the Mets: an in-contention Phillies team will probably mean a whole bunch of fans coming up the New Jersey Turnpike and at least partially filling Citi Field. Revenue is revenue, after all.
But the games won't be with third place on the line; the Mets now trail the Phillies by seven games. The games will actually matter, but only to the Phillies.