Jason Vargas was reading in front of his locker in a corner of the Mets clubhouse Sunday morning while Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler were relaxing on opposite sides of the new pingpong table in the center of the room. Whether the three pitchers will be back when the team returns from a road trip Aug. 5 remains uncertain.
What does seem likely is All-Star Marcus Stroman will be in the rotation.
New York has given general manager Brodie Van Wagenen reason to push for success in 2019 rather than just reorient for the future.
An 8-7 win Sunday over the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates improved the Mets to 10-5 since the All-Star break. After the game, they acquired Stroman from Toronto for a pair of top pitching prospects.
At 50-55, the Mets have passed Cincinnati, Colorado, Pittsburgh and San Diego in the standings and with just over one-third of the season remaining are six games back for the two NL wild-card spots with six teams in front.
“Brodie understands that I know we can win now. He knows that we can win now,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We both feel like we can win and get on a run and get into this thing.”
Michael Conforto sparked the offense with a two-run homer in a six-run first inning against Chris Archer, and Vargas (6-5) won a third straight start for the first time since last August. The Mets built an 8-3 lead and matched their longest winning streak this season at four games, completing a three-game sweep.
“I think we’re starting to put it all together,” Conforto said after reaching 20 homers for the third straight season. “The break was big for us. We got our legs back under us.”
Given a 6-0 lead, Vargas allowed three runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings . The 36-year-old left-hander can become a free agent after the World Series unless his $8 million club option for 2020 is exercised. Wheeler can go free this fall but Syndergaard is far more valuable — he can’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
“I don’t think that there has been a whole lot of speculation in my way. I think maybe if there was, there would probably be more thought,” Vargas said.
Jacob deGrom, Wheeler and Steven Matz got the victories earlier in the Mets’ spurt. New York starting pitchers had not won four straight games since Robert Gsellman, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero from Sept. 6-9, 2017.
“I feel like we’re synching things up,” Callaway said. “Our bullpen is performing. We’re scoring some runs consistently. Our starters have been outstanding, and that’s kind of the recipe for wins.”
Pittsburgh was 2½ games off the NL Central lead at the break but has lost 14 of 16, including eight in a row. The Pirates are 46-59, the next-to-worst record in the NL.
“They’re fighting. We’re not winning, but we’re fighting,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
New York led 8-3 in the ninth before Bryan Reynolds had a two-run homer off Tyler Bashlor and José Osuna hit a two-run drive against Edwin Díaz, who got the next two outs for his 23rd save in 27 chances.
Archer (3-8) allowed five hits and four walks in five innings, raising his ERA to 5.58. He is 0-3 in his last nine starts, 0-4 on the road this season and has allowed 25 home runs, second in the major leagues to 28 off Houston ace Justin Verlander. Archer is 28-47 since the start of 2016 after going 32-32 in his first four seasons.
He threw 48 pitches in the first, falling behind when Conforto hit an opposite-field drive to left. Todd Frazier , J.D. Davis and Amed Rosario had RBI singles, and Aaron Altherr added a sacrifice fly . The inning was prolonged when third baseman Jung Ho Kang failed to catch Archer’s throw on a bunt.
“I just came out extremely passive, wasn’t pitching like myself,” Archer said. “My stuff was flat, but it wasn’t a matter of my delivery. It was a matter of my mentality. Unacceptable.”
Altherr entered for Jeff McNeil, who was hit on the right shin by a pitch leading off the bottom of the first. X-rays were negative, and McNeil said he was sore but OK.
“I think Jason Giambi hit one off that same spot when I was pitching,” Callaway said, “and it hurt for like two years.”
Jacob Stallings hit a solo homer for the Pirates, who closed to 6-3 in the fifth inning but were hurt by a sloppy game that included three errors and three unearned runs.
Osuna dropped a foul pop near first for an error; reliever Francisco Liriano failed to cover first on Robinson Canó’s grounder to the right side, leading to an usual 3-6-4 double play; and two-time Gold Glove outfielder Starling Marté allowed Conforto’s fly to glance off his glove for a run-scoring error in what became a two-run sixth.
Hurdle on how to motivate his team: “I’ve used before the Stockdale Paradox. You have to have a sense of reality, but you need to remain optimistic. The harsh reality is we haven’t played well for two weeks. The optimism is, as I said, there’s been six games that we could have won along the way and that flips the record with one hit or one well-placed out.”
Citi Field’s foul poles are now fowl poles, with an ad for a chicken company attached to them.
Pirates: RHP Jordan Lyles (5-7) starts Monday at Cincinnati and RHP Sonny Gray (5-6). Lyles has allowed 16 runs — 13 earned — over eight innings in his last three starts.
Mets: Syndergaard (7-5) is scheduled to start Tuesday at the Chicago White Sox against RHP Reynaldo López (5-9).
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