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Jay Bruce Catching Fire as Mets Seek Heroes for 2016 Playoffs

They won't have Matt Harvey, they won't have Jacob deGrom, and they won't have Daniel Murphy.

If you're expecting the New York Mets to be the same roadblock they were for the Chicago Cubs they were last October, well, a lot of the power pitching is hurt, and the power-hitting second baseman is gone.

But they do have Jay Bruce.    

A week ago, you'd laugh when you said that. A week ago, Mets fans would cringe or worse if you said it.

But now the Mets are nearly assured of getting back to the postseason, and Bruce is part of the reason. Now the Mets are one regular-season win and one Wild Card Game win away from an October rematch with the Cubs, and Bruce is a reason to think they might just have a chance again.

"We knew when we got him, if he starts swinging the bat, he changes our whole lineup," Mets manager Terry Collins said in his postgame press conference Friday night after Bruce's three hits and three RBI keyed the 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that dropped the Mets' magic number to one. "Hopefully he can stay hot from now on."

Presumably Collins meant from now to whenever the Mets are done in 2016. Bruce's history through eight-and-a-half years with the Cincinnati Reds tells you he can stay hot for a while and that he can carry a team when he does.

That same history tells you he can get ridiculously cold and can drive his own team up the wall when he does.

The Mets saw that after acquiring Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds Aug. 1. Their fans saw it, and because they'd never really seen the hot version of Bruce, they booed him almost nonstop during the team's last homestand. They stopped only when they didn't have a chance, because Collins pinch hit for Bruce—with Eric Campbell!—and then left him out of the lineup four straight days.

The final day of that benching was last Saturday, and that night, Bruce pinch hit in the ninth inning and hit his first home run in three weeks (he went 3-for-39 in those three weeks, with no extra-base hits and one RBI).

Since then, Bruce has been back in the lineup every game, and he's hit safely in each one. The Mets have won every game but one.

Beginning with that home run, Bruce has 10 hits in 20 at-bats, and four of them have left the ballpark.

As my friend Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal tweeted sarcastically Friday:

With Bruce, with Yoenis Cespedes, with a revitalized Jose Reyes and an impressive Asdrubal Cabrera, the Mets head toward October with a lineup that might match or beat the one they rode to the World Series a year ago. They'll need it, because as well as Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman (who won again Friday) have done as fill-in starters, it's a little much to expect them to dominate in October the way Harvey or deGrom could.

Even if this season ends with a wild-card loss next Wednesday or even if it ends with a division-series loss to a Cubs team that will be heavily favored, the Mets can be proud of what they've done.

They lost three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation and also Zack Wheeler, the young power pitcher who was supposed to come back from Tommy John surgery and join the rotation at midseason. Three of the four starting infielders suffered major injuries, and two remain out.

They were 60-62 on Aug. 20, when they had just lost Steven Matz and were about to lose deGrom. They've gone 26-12 since then, the best record in the major leagues in that span.

Most of that came with minimal contributions from Bruce, who was leading the National League in RBI at the time of the trade but drove in just 11 runs in his first 42 games with the Mets.

It's only been a week since then, two games against the Phillies sandwiched around a series against a Miami Marlins team stunned by Jose Fernandez's death. It's not much.

But Bruce's history says these hot streaks can last. The Mets hope this one does.

Already, Bruce has the hits that have them on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. Now maybe he can give them the hits that help make that playoff spot count.

           

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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