When the season began, the New York Mets thought they'd be fighting for first place this time of year. Instead, they could be one of baseball's busiest sellers before the July 31 trade deadline.
Surprisingly poor pitching and another string of injuries to top players have put the underperforming Mets (41-48) in an unexpected position: Coming off consecutive playoff appearances, they are 9 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot. Shipping off veterans like Jay Bruce and Addison Reed to legitimate contenders might be the only way they impact the pennant race.
"You can't just throw up the white flag and say the season's over. We can catch up, we can get back in the hunt and that's our plan. But we've got to go play well," manager Terry Collins said Sunday before a 13-4 loss to Colorado. "I don't think for any stretch of the imagination that this is over yet."
Two days earlier, as the Mets came out of the All-Star break, general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged "things would have to go exceedingly well" during a 10-game homestand for the club to "change direction."
That sounds like a realistic front office resigned to procuring what it can for several pending free agents.
So while the rebuilding Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana) and budget-minded Oakland Athletics (Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle) have already cashed in assets, the Mets might not be far behind.
Need a dangerous bat in the outfield with postseason experience? Bruce and Curtis Granderson fit the bill.
A quality reliever who can set up or close? Reed should draw plenty of interest.
A first baseman with power and a discerning eye at the plate? Lucas Duda.
All of them, in addition to injured second baseman Neil Walker, make sizable salaries and are eligible for free agency following the World Series.
Then there's switch-hitting infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, who requested a trade (but then backed off) after getting shifted from shortstop to second base recently. His contract includes an $8.5 million club option next year with a $2 million buyout.
None of those players is likely to fetch a huge return by himself, but if the Mets move more than one it could collectively benefit the future of a team that plans to be back in the race next season. To accomplish that, New York will need to rebuild a thin bullpen and fill several slots in the everyday lineup. And if nothing else, this year has showed the Mets are in dire need of depth and live arms at the upper levels of their farm system.
New York took two of three over the weekend from the skidding Rockies, who lead the chase for the second NL wild card. On deck, a four-game series against St. Louis — another team ahead of the Mets.
If things don't go "exceedingly well" at Citi Field, keep an eye out for major changes.
A few other developments around baseball:
Justin Turner is batting .374, Alex Wood is 11-0 and Los Angeles (64-29) has won nine straight and 29 of 33 to build the best record in the big leagues heading into a two-game interleague series at the last-place White Sox beginning Tuesday night. The Dodgers completed a three-game sweep in Miami over the weekend and opened a 10 1/2-game lead in the NL West. They are 35 games above .500 for the first time since 1977 and have the franchise's best record through 93 games since 1955.
Quintana struck out a season-high 12 over seven sharp innings in his first game for the Chicago Cubs, who finished a three-game sweep at Baltimore with an 8-0 victory Sunday. The defending World Series champions hit 10 homers during the series and climbed over .500 for the first time since June 29. Are they finally poised to make their move?
Cleveland manager Terry Francona returned to the bench, only to see his team get swept in three games at last-place Oakland. Francona missed six games when he underwent a procedure for an irregular heartbeat. He had also been scheduled to manage the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game victory, but had to skip it. The Indians have lost four straight for the first time since 2015, and their AL Central lead was shaved to 1½ games over Minnesota. Next up, the defending AL champs head across the San Francisco Bay for a three-game series against the struggling Giants.
Stingy pitching was on display as the AL East-leading Red Sox split a compelling and tiring four-game series with the Yankees. Boston outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went over the bullpen wall in the triangle at Fenway Park to steal a home run from major league leader Aaron Judge. New York was shut out for the first time all season but also won consecutive games for the first time since a six-game spurt from June 7-12. Red Sox batters are 3 for 58 with runners in scoring position against the Yankees this season. Meanwhile, it seems nobody has noticed, but the surprising Rays have moved just ahead of New York into second place in the division, three games behind Boston.
OUTSIDE THE PARK
Rockies leadoff man Charlie Blackmon hustled around the bases for an inside-the-park home run Sunday against the Mets — even though replays showed his drive actually cleared the left-center fence at Citi Field before caroming back onto the grass. Blackmon became the first player with two inside-the-park homers in one season since Colorado's Brandon Barnes in 2014.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Cody Bellinger became the first Dodgers rookie to hit for the cycle Saturday in a 7-1 win over the Marlins. Bellinger singled in the first inning, launched a two-run homer in the third, added an RBI double in the fourth and hit his second career triple on the first pitch of the seventh. "In this organization there is so much history," he said. "To see my name on some of that is pretty humbling."
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