It is August 19th, and the New York Mets are dead.
They are 60-62, sitting in fifth place and 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race. They are closer to the Phillies than they are to the postseason. They've been crushed, 8-1, by the San Francisco Giants just one night after Jacob deGrom showed that something clearly wasn't quite right, getting bashed around for eight runs on 13 hits over five ignominious innings. Their projected chances of making the playoffs resembled Gary Johnson's polling numbers.
It is August 19th, and a savior returns.
New York extolled the return of Yoenis Cespedes, the high-profile free agent who returned a year after carrying the Mets to the postseason a year ago, and begged him to save them. He's played great, but it was the other man who returned the same day -- the one who is one month younger and plays shortstop, yet whose full contract will cost the Mets less than what Cespedes will make this year -- who has rescued the Citi faithful from the abyss.
Over the last 30 days, roughly coinciding with Asdrubal Cabrera's return from the disabled list, here is the full list of qualified players who have posted a higher wRC+ than his 213:
Cabrera's .358/.418/.688 batting line since August 19th, coupled with his -- eh, we'll say adequate -- defense up the middle has made Cabrera worth 1.9 fWAR over the past month, twice that of Cespedes. He has 19 extra base hits and has reached safely in 24 of 27 games started, all from the most important position in the lineup.
Cabrera as savior is unlikely for every conceivable reason. A journeyman playing on his fourth team in five years, he has battled constant injuries since his breakout season in 2011. Admitting himself that he is not currently close to 100%, many feared that the injury that put him on the disabled list at the beginning of August might end his season. Such a scenario may have been welcomed by more cynical Mets fans at the time -- in the two months prior to the knee injury, Cabrera had been hitting just .234/.286/.426 for an 88 wRC+. That he has returned at all is something of a marvel; that he has been so dominant is nigh inconceivable.
Also playing defense up the middle (less than adequately, perhaps, depending on who you ask) and hitting in one of the most important positions in the lineup -- again, depending on who you ask -- is another fourth-decade hitter whose massive contributions to the Mets' rebound aren't readily apparent to those simply glancing at the stat lines.
In college, I had a friend named Charlie who I took to calling Chuck The Improbable, based on his uncanny ability to find himself -- and by means of proximity, me -- in all manners of fun, but incredibly unlikely, situations. I'm reminded of my good friend Chuck when looking at the work of Curtis Granderson over the past month.
While the Grandy Man has been flirting with the Mendoza line since the beginning of August, only Hanley Ramirez has a higher Win Probability Added (WPA) over the past month, as the 35-year-old has seemingly found a way to make each one of his rare hits inflict as much damage as possible. He is a Hitmonchan holding a Scope Lens and guzzling Dire Hits who has just used Focus Energy -- every hit is critical. Take, for example, his performance on Saturday, when his 11th inning leadoff home run re-tied New York's game against the Twins at two, and his 12th inning, two-out home run ended it.
That's not to say everything Granderson has done has been the result of good timing; his 137 wRC+ since Cabrera's return has helped.
Cabrera is a perfect metaphor for his team's season. He is battered and wounded, he appeared to be done in August, and yet somehow against all odds, he is not only surviving, but thriving. Cabrera and the Mets are "on two bad legs!" Kirk Gibson (the home run-hitting Dodger outfielder, not the opposing batter-hitting Diamondback manager). They have stared down the impossible situation and shouted, "No."
The Mets are 20-10 since Cabrera's return -- the best in baseball -- which has vaulted them not only back into the Wild Card race, but atop it. Their playoff chances now sit in the mid-80s as they need only hold off either the fading Giants, who sport the National League's worst record in September, or the Cardinals, whose starting rotation has uncharacteristically fallen to pieces.
There are questions that must be answered when the playoffs arrive, and the Mets may not have the No. 2 pencil to fill in those bubbles. Last October's peerless postseason rotation of pre-arbitration pitching aces is at a quarter strength -- only Noah Syndergaard remains active, though Steven Matz is due back Friday. Without deGrom, who was scratched from his start Sunday and is likely lost for the season, and Matt Harvey, who hasn't pitched since Independence Day, the Mets' playoff rotation will likely feature a 43-year-old Stay Puft marshmallow man and one of either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman.
Without that murderer's row of a pitching staff, it won't be the October Mets fans dreamed of after falling just shy of the promised land a year ago. But baseball's a funny game, and once you're in the tournament, then anything can happen. If Asdrubal Cabrera can be the best hitter on a playoff team in 2016, then anything can happen. If Tim Tebow can be a professional baseball player, then anything can happen. And if the Cubs can be World Series favorites, my friends, then certainly anything can happen.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs
Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a staff writer at Disciples of Uecker, and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke (but I wouldn't).
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