Not many clubs have disappointing 101-win seasons, but that’s what happened to the Mets this year. Last Sunday night they fell 2-1 in the National League Wildcard round to the Padres, and the second-most successful regular season in Mets history ended in ignominious defeat before the playoffs ever got going.
The season was in many ways remarkable. The Mets had the lead in the NL East for all but six days in the regular season. At one point, in early June, they held a 10.5 game lead in the division. At the end of things they’d won 101 games, but lost the NL East title to the Braves on a tie-breaker, having been swept by Atlanta 3-0 in a crucial penultimate series which capped off an astonishing second half of the year for the Braves.
A number of individual accolades were notched by star players. Pete Alonso broke the club record for RBIs, hitting 131 and passing Mike Piazza and David Wright’s joint record of 124. He also went yard 40 times. Francisco Lindor broke Jose Reyes’ 81-RBI shortstop record (2006). The team also broke the record for hit-by-pitches league wide, totalling a stunning 106. Buck Showalter’s trademark, rueful stare become MEME worthy stuff:
Talking of Twitter, Mets Twitter is a wild place. After every loss along the way, with the Braves clawing ever closer to the division lead, fans seemingly gave up on the team. It is hard to blame them given the team’s history of throwing away big leads, and second half of the season meltdowns.
The defining series of the season was a three-game stretch against Atlanta the weekend prior to the playoffs. Heading into the series, the Mets needed to win just one of the three games to maintain control of their own destiny. As it was, in spite of a starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, the Mets lost all three outings and the Braves never looked back.
Thus, when it got to the wildcard series against San Diego, there was some cognitive dissonance among the Queens faithful. 101 wins was special, but it was a failure to have not wrapped up the NL East. A great season and a terrible waste. On opening night it was hope and expectation, though tinged with trepidation, which remained the overwhelming feelings at a raucous CitiField. Scherzer took the mound and the Mets, favoured over the Padres, took the field amid a cacophony of noise. But Scherzer, a future hall of fame pitcher, is surprisingly Jekyll and Hyde in the post-season (8-8 career), and the wrong guy turned up for New York on Friday night. The Padres walloped him for four runs and the Mets ended up 7-1 losers in the opener, the bubble well and truly burst.
Jacob deGrom, for his part, tied it up on Saturday night with a two-run, five-hit, eight-strikeout performance worthy of his supposed ‘best pitcher in baseball’ moniker, and the bats came to life, shelling Blake Snell and making off with a 7-3 win.
By the third game, though, something ominous was in the air. It wasn’t a sell-out (prohibitive pricing likely played a part), and beat writers were openly opining as to whether fans had misread the start time. Instead of finding their seats an hour before the first pitch, they were trickling in sheepishly. What transpired was predictable. Joe Musgrove pitched an ace, Chris Bassitt was knocked around, and the Mets were shutout 6-0, becoming the first team in playoff history to muster just one hit in a win or go home postseason game. Even Buck Showalter caught some flack, having initiated a check on Musgrove for sticky stuff in the sixth inning:
So what went wrong at a macro level this year? Many will point towards a lacklustre trade deadline in which the Mets were cautious rather than gung-ho, adding only Darin Ruf, Daniel Vogelbach, and Tyler Naquin of note. None of those players ended up contributing in a major fashion in September or October, with Ruf an unmitigated disaster. Others have lamented the fact that Francisco Alvarez was brought up just days before the defining series of the season; why, they asked, wasn’t he promoted to the active roster earlier, if they thought he could make an impact down the stretch? The bullpen was up and down outside of Diaz, and power hitting remains a blind spot outside of Alonso and Lindor (the Mets finished fifteenth in total home runs).
Billy Eppler remains General Manager this coming offseason, and even if they break up the band of veteran players (deGrom, Diaz, Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo, Adam Ottavino, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor May et al), it’s unlikely that the Mets are anything but prohibitive favourites for the NL East after the coming off-season. Why? Because Steve Cohen will splash the cash. Like Vince Vaughan’s character in Swingers, Cohen will double-down (“I’m telling you baby, you always double down”). Aaron Judge is an obvious crosstown target, as is retaining deGrom and star closer Edwin Diaz, who will both surely warrant a qualifying offer. Shohei Ohtani might have felt pie in the sky for this organisation before Cohen bought the team, but now he’s a legitimate possibility. Onwards and upwards.
MVP – Edwin Diaz. Diaz finished the season with a 1.31 ERA, 32 saves and 118 strikeouts over 62 innings. The elite closer will be worthy of shattering Aroldis Chapman’s record deal.
Biggest Surprise – Francisco Lindor, who hit 107 RBIs and 26 home runs. Perhaps some expected it, but I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance this season.
Biggest Disappointment – Darin Ruf, who had 10 hits in 29 games for an average of .152 after joining from the Giants.
Best Moment – Plenty to choose from, but I have to go with Keith Hernandez’s retirement ceremony. This was a classy, poignant moment and well deserved:
Featured image from @ESPN on Twitter
Joshua Edwards is a long-time Met fan and the London Series correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joshwa_1990