The Mets’ road to the postseason last year was shaped by definitive moments — an 11-game winning streak in April, a rousing sweep of the Nationals after the trade deadline, and an encore several weeks later in Washington.
But the NL East championship came not through flashy turning points but by completing unglamorous tasks. In the case of the Mets, that meant beating up on lesser division rivals.
Yes, there are dishes to clean, stack and put away, and the first pile of them arrives in Friday’s home opener, the first of 19 games against the downtrodden Phillies. “We know we’ve got to play them a lot, so it’s good to get it started,” manager Terry Collins said.
The Mets’ 90-72 record was built mostly on across-the-board success within the division. The Mets went 11-8 against the Nationals, Marlins and Braves and 14-5 against the Phillies. The Mets had a 47-29 record against their NL East brethren, a .618 winning percentage that eclipsed their .556 mark for the regular season.
They’ll need more of the same this season. The Nationals return a team that they hope is determined enough to bounce back from last year’s internal meltdown, and the Marlins once more have emerged as a popular pick to make a surprise run at the division. But the Braves and Phillies are locked in the early stages of massive rebuilding, making it even more important for the Mets to capitalize.
“Just winning series, that’s something we did very well last year,” David Wright said. “Just win series.”
A sense of normalcy has escaped the Mets of late. After breaking camp, they jetted off to Las Vegas for two exhibition games against the Cubs. Then they stopped for a two-game set against the Royals for an unprecedented season-opening rematch of the previous year’s World Series.
The Royals raised their championship banner and handed out their rings, leaving the Mets to be a part of festivities that dredged up painful memories of the Fall Classic.
This week’s schedule does not resemble anything that the Mets will face the rest of the season. Wednesday was the first of two consecutive off days and a stretch of three in four days. But the pace picks up beginning with Friday’s home opener, an assignment that for now will go to righthander Jacob deGrom, whose life lately has been shrouded by uncertainty.
He is awaiting the birth of his first child, whose due date was Tuesday. He has remained with the team but has prepared to board a jet to Florida, where he intends to be with his wife for the birth. But if that phone call comes Thursday, deGrom said he was unsure if he still could make his scheduled start Friday.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” deGrom said Tuesday. “I’m just waiting to see what happens.”
Long Island’s Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon would be among Collins’ choices for a last-minute fill-in. He also threw Matt Harvey’s name in the mix because he last pitched Sunday. Starting the home opener would keep Harvey on his regular turn.
Beginning with the three-game set against the Phillies, the Mets play NL East opponents in 12 of 15 games. Perhaps the time finally has come to settle into a rhythm against the teams they must beat.
“There’s no other way to be successful — to hopefully win the National League East, to be up there toward the top down the home stretch — unless you take care of business in the division at home,” Wright said. “And we certainly need to do that again this year.”
The Phillies weren’t the only doormat the Mets stepped all over last year. The Mets hope their 2015 domination of the NL’s bottom feeders — they went a combined 28-5 against the three last-place teams — carries over to this season.
2015 Record: 63-99
Mets vs. Phillies: 14-5
2015 Record: 64-98
Mets vs. Reds: 7-0
2015 Record: 68-94
Mets vs. Rockies: 7-0