NEW YORK -- There was a fleeting moment in late June, coming off encouraging series wins against the Giants, Marlins and Phillies, that the Mets seemed primed to begin shooting toward a potential playoff berth. It was never going to be easy. But it did appear possible.
While the chance for a miracle remains for these Mets, every series loss makes it less and less realistic. Now, as the Mets prepare to return from the All-Star break, they must contend with the reality that they might not make a serious run at October -- meaning at some point, their energies must shift toward 2018.
The next two and a half weeks could rank among the most important in recent Mets history. Over that stretch, the Mets must decide if they are going to sell at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, to what extent, and if there is any remaining chance that they can compete down the stretch. General manager Sandy Alderson faces a series of difficult decisions, which could shape the franchise for years to come.
Most likely, the Mets will deal some veterans, call up some prospects and start looking toward next season -- their window to compete for a championship, they believe, still open in 2018. With that in mind, here's a look at how the rest of July could unfold.
The Mets have no shortage of players they could look to deal in the coming weeks: relievers Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins; outfielders Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson; infielders Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes; and others. It is unlikely that the Mets would receive blue-chip prospects in return for any of those players. But fair-value deals for two or three of them would go a long way toward restoring health to the Mets' farm system.
What are they playing for?
It's not impossible to envision the Mets clawing their way back into contention in late July and August, though doing so would require even more magic than they demonstrated during their stretch runs in 2015 and '16. Realistically, the Mets will spend much of the second half looking forward to next season. That means trading off veterans who aren't part of the plan, calling up prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, and -- unlike last year, when surgeries were the topic du jour -- making sure their top starting pitchers enter the offseason healthy.
The road ahead
The Mets will open the second half with consecutive series against the Rockies and Cardinals, two of the seven teams they are chasing in the National League Wild Card chase. If they don't make a serious run in those half-dozen games, their odds of selling at the Deadline will increase manifold.
If the Mets have any chance to claw back into contention in the second half, it rests upon Noah Syndergaard's shoulders. If all goes well, Syndergaard could begin throwing off flat ground in the coming days, setting him up for an eventual mid-August return. Due to a torn right lat muscle, the Mets haven't seen much of Syndergaard in what was supposed to be an NL Cy Young Award-caliber season for him at age 24. More than anyone, he has a chance to alter the arc of their season.
Prospects to watch
A significant portion of the Mets' fan base believes top prospect Rosario's promotion is already months overdue. To date, Alderson has resisted calling up Rosario despite his .327 average and .839 OPS in 83 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. But that could change in a hurry after the Deadline, particularly if Alderson succeeds in dealing Cabrera or Reyes. The Mets will also keep a keen eye on Smith, whom they consider their first baseman of the future. He's hitting .330 with an .882 OPS in 89 games at Las Vegas.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.