Then a funny thing started happening: The Mets started winning. Wright roared out of the gate with a .400 batting average. Santana looked healthier and was more effective than anyone could have had any right to expect. Young players like Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Josh Thole, Dillon Gee, and Ruben Tejada improved at a rate no one saw coming. The whole team discovered a very un-Met-like ability to come through late in games with the big hit, an unquantifiable but undeniable attribute of out-of-nowhere underdog teams. And, most of all, there was R. A. Dickey, the bearded, book-writing, Kilimanjaro-climbing, endlessly fascinating knuckleballer, who, after two perfectly fine seasons, somehow turned himself into Sandy Koufax. The Mets didn’t overwhelm anybody—how could they?—but they kept plugging away and winning against teams more talented and more highly paid than themselves. That is to say, they basically turned the rest of baseball into the Mets.
Then, last month, the pièce de résistance, the evening that assured this Mets season would be remembered even if the Mets lost every game the rest of the season: Santana’s historic no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first in the franchise’s history. It was a magical evening—the kind a lot more people I know claimed to have attended than would seem possible—and the sort of night that makes one wonder if there truly is something special about this year’s team. If it’s kismet. If, on the 50th anniversary, it could possibly be 1969 again.
Well, can it be? We’re late enough in the season that the Mets at least have to try, particularly now with two wild-card spots up for grabs rather than one. (Imagine: Had that second wild card existed in 2008; the Mets’ collapse would have never happened, and—who knows?—maybe Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph would still be here.) The goal of any MLB team is simply to reach the postseason and hope the randomness of the October format works for them rather than against them—ask the 2011 Cardinals whether it matters how you got into the postseason—so all the Mets need to aim for is to make it. The primary question would seem to be: Should Alderson & Co. go all-in on a season that they seemed to be writing off?
It’s not an academic discussion. The Mets are blessed with two of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Matt Harvey (who should be in the majors next year) and Zack Wheeler (their booty from the Carlos Beltran trade last year). Alderson is too savvy to trade away either of those guys, but could Jeurys Familia, another Triple-A Buffalo starter, be on the table, particularly now that he’s begun suffering from control issues? Right now, the Mets don’t have much of a farm system to gut (even though they did have five players, including Harvey, Wheeler, and Familia, in expert John Sickels’s top-120 prospects released last week); Alderson is still trying to rebuild that system, particularly through the international pipeline (see the recent signing of 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario, the No. 11 international prospect, according to Baseball America, to a $1.75 million deal). As much fun as this Mets run has been, this is a team with real holes right now, particularly in the bullpen and on defense. They have at least three players out of position every night, and Duda, for all the fun his bat provides, might be the worst defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen. He judges fly balls like he has walleye vision.
The trade market, because of that second wild card (and the subsequent prevailing sense that every team is still in the race, even if they’re not), is going to be extremely competitive: To bring in the help the Mets might need will surely require more than Alderson is willing to pay. The fun of this season might not be sustainable—it’s a bit of alchemy that it’s gone on this long—and Alderson might be wise not to bet more than he has to on the last three months. There’s no reason to double down: He can keep the rebuilding system in place while the Mets are winning. He won’t risk that, and he shouldn’t. Besides, they might just keep winning without any extra help. They’ve made it this far, after all, and guys like Dickey, Santana, and Wright (who at last is being appreciated by the fan base, just in time for free agency) have shown no sign of slowing down.
No matter what happens in the last three months, the Mets have achieved something important and lasting: They’re not a joke. They have a team that is enjoyable to watch (all the more so because of their relative lack of talent), cohesive, and more than a little lovable. (Manager Terry Collins has been an underrated part of all of this.) This season is a success already, even if it all falls apart down the stretch.
It’s crazy to think the Mets can keep this going, but it’s crazy that it has even gone this far. I say let it ride. Let’s see what these kids can keep doing. There’s nothing to lose: Alderson and company are already hard at work on the foundation anyway, and this season was supposed to be lost. But it is not lost. It feels like something else. Mets fans haven’t given themselves over to it yet, but if this continues … they will. It sounds insane, but hey: This is the sort of situation that can produce a miracle.