NEW YORK -- Only Dorothy and Toto have had a worse time away from home than the New York Mets have this season. The Mets have simply been terrible on the road, compiling an NL-worst 8-18 record away from Citi Field.
It makes no sense because the Mets are so good at home. After their day-night doubleheader against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, they have the third-best home mark in the league at 24-10. The Mets started this six-game homestand with four straight victories, including a three-game sweep of the Florida Marlins.
None of it will matter, however, if the Mets can't extend their winning ways to the road. The Mets open a nine-game trip on Friday, starting with three against the lowly Baltimore Orioles and followed by a three-game set with the terrible Cleveland Indians. The trip ends with three in Da Bronx against the Yankees.
To date, it's the most important road trip of the season. It's a chance to get healthy, feast on bad teams and gain confidence about playing on the road. It might, in fact, tell you if the Mets are serious contenders.
Yes, there's a lot of baseball still to be played before anything is settled, but a disastrous road trip against two also-rans could spell trouble.
"It's not like we don't play the same on the road,'' Mets' centerfielder Angel Pagan said. "We always battle hard. If you look, we lost a lot of close ballgames. We're playing a lot better right now and that's what we're going to bring to Baltimore and Cleveland.''
The Orioles entered Thursday night's game against the Yankees losers of 12 of their previous 13 games.
The first six games of the trip count the most. Though the O's and Indians are professional teams that won't just roll over, the Mets, with the way they are pitching, should be able to win five of those six games; anything less than a 4-2 mark should be considered unacceptable.
"All of the series are obviously important,'' Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Regardless of who you're playing, it's the major leagues. They are teams that can get hot at any point.
"For us, we have to stay with the same formula of good pitching, play good defense and timely hitting has to be a part of that equation.''
Especially the hitting part. "The timely hitting, for the most part, has not happened for us on the road,'' Manuel said.
Pagan knows those teams will look at the Mets as easier prey because of their hardships on the road. Hence, beating them isn't always as easy as it looks.
"It's not like we're going to take them as a small enemy,'' he said of Baltimore and Cleveland. "To us, everybody is a big enemy. We have to play them hard, no matter what team it is. The way we're playing, we're going to have a good road trip.''
The Mets, who were 4-13 on the road in May, will certainly need it. After what should be two easy-as-pie stops on the trip, the Mets have to go to Yankee Stadium for Part 2 of the Subway Series. "We feel like if we can win here (Citi Field) and be successful at the rate that we are, we should be confident enough to take that on the road and play good baseball,'' Manuel said.
The Mets don't have to be world-beaters on the road, they just have to play .500 ball. That's what good teams do -- play well at home and even away from home.
Somehow, the Mets have been able to contend so far without that winning formula. That's why you have to believe the Mets are in the playoff hunt, not only for the wild card, but also for the division. They have the pitching, plus they will play better on the road; they are not as bad as they have played so far.
"Pitching is one of the biggest parts of the game,'' Pagan said. "If the pitching is sharp, we feel good about our team. Right now, the pitching has been outstanding. With them keeping us in the ballgame, the offense just has to get some runs and we can win some ballgames.''
Even on the road.
Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com