CHICAGO -- OK, who saw this coming three months ago? Who knew, back in the last week of July, the team that was about to represent the National League in the World Series was a team that had a .165 hitter (John Mayberry Jr.) batting cleanup? A team that had scored fewer runs than any offense in the major leagues? And a team that was giving major-league at-bats -- out of sheer necessity -- to Johnny Monell, Eric Campbell and Anthony Recker?
Who could have seen this? Who could have known? Who could have envisioned that three months later, the New York Mets would be heading for their first World Series in 15 years?
Tell us you saw Daniel Murphy turning himself into Mickey Mantle on the big October stage. Tell us you envisioned Travis d'Arnaud coming back from a fractured hand to become the best offensive catcher in the National League. Tell us you knew all along that after Michael Conforto reached the big leagues, he'd have a better slugging percentage than Miguel Cabrera or Andrew McCutchen.
Well, all of that happened. And while we know that what makes this juggernaut so dangerous is its never-ending supply of overpowering arms, that isn't the part of this team that changed the face of its memorable season.
No, it was the midseason reconstruction of a dysfunctional offense that made this magic carpet ride possible. But back in July, when the Mets were staggering through a five-week stretch in which they averaged 2.5 runs a game, even they couldn't have envisioned this.
"At that time, we weren't scoring very many runs," assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler said. "We were scuffling. I mean, if we had a 3-and-0 count, that was a rally."
But it was then that Sandy Alderson and this front office went to work. And here is how the pieces fell into place:
July 24: Call up Conforto.
July 24: Trade with Atlanta for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.
July 31: Trade with Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes.
July 31: Activate d'Arnaud from the disabled list.
Aug. 24: Activate Wright from the disabled list.
The deal for Uribe and Johnson was probably the least ballyhooed of those developments. But "that, to me, is when we started turning things around," manager Terry Collins said.
It was a trade that lengthened the lineup and gave the manager more offensive and defensive options. But maybe most important, it was a sign this front office recognized it had a chance, and ownership was willing to take on actual payroll dollars to try to win. Well, it's a good thing.
The last time the Mets won a World Series, in 1986, they were a 108-win monster that blew out their division by 21½ games. This team, on the other hand, was three games behind Washington at the trade deadline and still hunting desperately for that one game-changing, lineup-altering, season-changing masher.
Then Cespedes stopped by in a trade that went down less than a half-hour before the deadline. From literally that moment on, this was never the same team. In fact, the trade did something that had never been done in modern National League history: It scored the MOST runs in the league over the past two months, after scoring the FEWEST over the first four months. It'll be a while before you see anything like that again.
That wasn't all Cespedes' doing, obviously. But almost instantly, he turned into a franchise-changer.
"The way I describe it," Michael Cuddyer said, "is, he was the leadoff hitter in a best-ball foursome. He was able to take the pressure off all of us."
It wouldn't be accurate to call Cespedes the greatest trade-deadline acquisition of all time. But he's right up there. He hit 18 home runs in four months in Detroit. He bashed 17 in two months as a Met. And that made him only the sixth player in history to thump 17 or more for two different teams in the same season. Here are the others, courtesy of home run historian David Vincent:
Fred McGriff, 1993: 18 HRs for the Padres, 19 for the Braves
Mark McGwire, 1997: 34 HRs with the A's, 24 with the Cardinals
David Justice, 2000: 21 for the Indians, 20 for the Yankees
Manny Ramirez, 2008: 20 with the Red Sox, 17 with the Dodgers
Alfonso Soriano, 2013: 17 for the Cubs, 17 for the Yankees
"You know what's crazy?" Curtis Granderson asked. "You hear a lot of people talking about what Murphy has done and the tear he's been on. But Cespedes was on a very similar tear when he came over here."
Hey, you know what else is crazy? It was only a year earlier the A's had traded Cespedes OFF a first-place team (for Jon Lester). So just think about the effect those two deals had on two pennant races. Eyes right if you want to check out the mind-boggling numbers as far as life at the plate with and without Cespedes in the lineup, via ESPN Stats & Info whiz Paul Hembekides.
Cespedes debuted as a Met on Aug. 1. From that day through the rest of the season, he tied for the league lead in extra-base hits and finished in the top three in home runs, slugging, RBIs and total bases. There wasn't a single player in the major leagues who beat him in all of those categories.
He was so good, it's almost amusing now to remember this: As the deadline pressure built, he wasn't even the Mets' first choice.
Who will ever forget that two days before the Mets dealt for Cespedes, they agreed to a deal with Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez, a guy they'd prioritized mostly because they'd have kept him through 2016? And even when that deal fell through, they worked just as hard at trading for Justin Upton as Cespedes, only to have the Padres decide they were keeping Upton, not dealing him.
So as deadline consolation prizes go, Cespedes might be the all-timer. But this offensive resurgence wasn't all Cespedes, either. Consider the other pieces that began to fit together:
d'Arnaud: After coming off the disabled list, he led all NL catchers in OPS (.804). "When he's at home plate," Collins said, "he's dangerous."
Conforto: After his July 24 debut, had a higher OPS (.841) than Manny Machado or Buster Posey, and had a higher slugging percentage (.506) than Cabrera or McCutchen. "He's a talented kid," Collins said.
Granderson: From Aug. 1 on, had the fifth-best on-base percentage (.390) in the NL, was second in runs scored (45) and first in pitches per plate appearance (4.55). Plus he hit 10 homers. "The MVP of our team," special assistant J.P. Ricciardi said, "has been Curtis Granderson."
Murphy: We know about his October, but how about his August and September? Hit .296, with an .854 OPS after July, and was the only player in the major leagues with twice as many extra-base hits (29) as strikeouts (14). And then came October. Or, as Granderson calls it, "Murph-tober."
Lucas Duda: Had a stretch from July 25-Aug. 1 in which he had eight straight hits that were homers, then extended it the next day to 10 straight hits that were extra-base hits -- all of which drove in runs. No one on any team had done that in 10 years. "When he breaks out," Collins said, "he can carry us."
So even beyond Cespedes, this team had five of the best hitters in the National League in its lineup down the stretch (at least when Duda was hot). And all of a sudden, the mix-and-match lineup options for the manager seemed endless.
"Look at our bench after we made the trades," Roessler said. "You had Kelly and Uribe coming off the bench. We had Cuddyer coming off the bench -- and Conforto when he didn't start against lefties. It was unbelievable."
Yeah, it was unbelievable, all right. Especially when you compared it to those days, not so long ago, when the only thing this lineup led the league in was .230 hitters.
So if the Mets win the World Series, we can almost guarantee it'll get chalked up to their unique ability to send an ace, or a future ace, to the mound every night. And it should. But remember this while you're watching them spray champagne: There would have been no trip to October in the first place if their lineup hadn't starred in a special episode of "Extreme Makeover" as their season's dog days neared.