Now we find out that Wagner isn't returning, not this year and not next year, either. And I'm here to tell you the Mets can still win. No, I'm here to tell you the Mets should still win.
(By win, I mean win the division, not win in October. I'm not that nuts).
1. They're winning without him already. Wagner hasn't pitched in a game since Aug. 2. The Mets were 58-52 then, and they were in third place (and they lost the last time he appeared). Since then, the Mets have gone 22-11 and have moved into first place. Not only that, but the Mets bullpen had a 4.21 ERA when Wagner went down. They have a 3.31 ERA since.
2. Carlos Delgado. You can argue about whether Delgado deserves to win the National League's most valuable player award for what amounts to a half-season of excellence. What's certain is that Delgado is playing like an MVP right now. As teammate Damion Easley said, the Mets can jump on Delgado's back and ride him to the playoffs.
3. Johan Santana. Manager Jerry Manuel exaggerated when he said that the Mets are "able to send a good starting pitcher to the mound every day." But the Mets are able to send a great starting pitcher to the mound every fifth day. And some of those days, Santana will pitch so well and for so long that he won't even need a closer.
4. If not quality, then quantity. The Mets are carrying 18 pitchers on their September roster, and on some nights Manuel seems determined to use every one of them. The point is, Manuel can match up as much as he wants. He could even do it in the ninth inning, although for now Luis Ayala is doing a respectable job as Wagner's fill-in.
5. The Nationals, and the Braves. The Mets host Washington and Atlanta this week. They go to Washington and Atlanta next week. Yes, the Nationals are better than they were, but they're also 32 games under .500. As for the fading Braves, they just finished losing five of seven to the Nationals. Enough said.
6. First place. True, it didn't help the Mets to have the lead last September. But you'd still rather be in first, and it's amazing how big a two-game lead can seem as the games count down. Cool Standings had the Mets as a 73 percent chance to win the division as of Monday, and Baseball Prospectus had it even higher, at 77 percent.
So there you have it. Wagner's a big loss, and the Mets now have a big new item on their offseason shopping list.
But they still can win the NL East this year. They still should win it.