The Mets are left with fixing the optics with the franchise yet again
The Mets parlayed a 101-win regular season into one playoff win and an early exit from the postseason tournament
This really is hard to believe.
For five months and around 130 games, the Mets played a brand of baseball which demonstrated dominance on the mound, a bleed-you-to-death offense, and showed both character and guile when the going got tough.
We saw this brand time and time again, highlighted by their dramatic ninth inning comebacks against the Cardinals and Phillies earlier in the year, a dramatic series win against the Braves in August, a gutsy and hard fought series split against the Dodgers in early June followed by a series win at Citi Field in early September.
And through it all between the difficult gauntlet of their June schedule, the injuries to Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, the Mets found a way to rise to the occasion and show the baseball world they were a force built around such character and guile.
For those 130 games, there were shades of 1986.
But it was at that point after their September 1 game when the Mets won two out of three from the Dodgers at Citi Field when it all changed.
The Nationals came into town as the Dodgers left and it was as if the lights went out on the Mets. They dropped two out of three to Washington.
Something was different from that point forward. Lethargy, fatigue, indifference have all come into question for a Mets club who sat three games ahead of the Braves at the close of business on September 1, yet still controlled their own destiny heading into Atlanta just ten days ago with the schedule and the math on their side.
Still, they looked befuddled against teams that were to be befuddled - something became amiss.
They needed to win just one game against the Braves to lock in the tiebreaker and go home no worse than in a mathematical tie for the division with three games to go.
And then they didn’t show up in Atlanta as they watched as the Braves schooled them on exactly what a championship-caliber team looks like.
Suddenly, in a span of 48 hours, the Mets looked like a truck ran over them.
But again, it was the culmination of events leading up to that series against the Braves stemming from that September 1 afternoon which put them in a position to settle for a series against the Padres this past weekend, during which they failed to show up for either.
The Mets were crushed by the Pirates on September 6 and outplayed by the Marlins on September 9, but still managed to win both of those series, although it didn’t seem like enough and, again, something had gone missing from this Mets club as their offense went totally Jekyll and Hyde on them at that point.
But then they came home to face the Cubs, a team that ultimately lost 88 games, a team that looked more like a typical Cubs team before they built up to their championship run in 2016.
And that’s when the season really came to an end for the Mets.
They were quietly swept away by Chicago, getting outscored 15-6 in the process. They did go on to win their next six games but the Cubs series represented an opportunity for them to truly win the division and make even the worst case scenario of being swept by the Braves in the final weekend potentially irrelevant.
It was that Cubs series that really forced the Mets to settle for a Wild Card series against the Padres, a series they shouldn’t have been in to begin with and didn’t show up for anyway.
We have discussed the tangible reasons why the Mets struggled so much after September 1 despite their 14-11 record after that date. They lost Starling Marte due to injury, Jacob deGrom was only fair at best down the stretch and both he and Max Scherzer failed them in Atlanta, as did Chris Bassitt in two starts a week a part from each other. And Scherzer failed them on Friday night with a second straight ineffective start in games the Mets literally signed him to pitch in and win. We have discussed that Jekyll and Hyde offense and the over-dependence on Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor to produce. We have also discussed their inability to land the impact right-handed power bat they needed after the lockout, the inability to do the same thing at the trade deadline as well as their high-risk and not-so-unpredictable result from their trade deadline strategy as well.
But for the offense in particular, Marte couldn’t have and shouldn’t have been the lynchpin. Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin and Darin Ruf were not effective in general for the offense but certainly were not the ones completely responsible for their malaise, either. There was still enough talent here to produce the highest team batting average and the third-highest run total in the National League from start to finish. And it’s not as if the Mets offense suddenly went cold upon Marte’s departure to the injured list, either.
Also remember - with their lineup completely intact, they were still Jekyll and Hyde in their three playoff games against the Padres, culminating in a fitting way on Sunday when they produced two baserunners over nine innings in a horrific showing to end their season.
So the questions is, what are the intangible reasons for all of this? What happened to the guile and grit this Met team had and was all about which ultimately landed them 101 regular season wins which was parlayed into one playoff win and an airline ticket home?
That part I don’t know the answer to. If I did, I’d probably be driving a nicer car than I do right now. I’m not even sure they have the ability to solve that equation right now.
I have always been of the belief that talent always prevails at any level of any sport, and the cream always rises to the top. They of course need to be shown the way, but talent is the key indicator of a team’s success. The Mets seemingly proved to be the cream of the crop really until the last ten days of the season.
For whatever reason, the cream did not rise in the end.
But there’s one thing I do know and that is the last ten days has made for a sour end to what should’ve been a special year for the Mets.
As Brandon Nimmo essentially said last night, nobody cares they won 101 games. They care they only won one playoff game and are now on their living room sofas.
And, he’s right - they were not close to winning a championship in the end.
But it’s bigger than that.
The Mets failed to seize their moment. It was all right there in front of them ten days ago and in that span their season completely fell apart. They didn’t do it then, were forced to settle for a series nobody ever thought they would play in, and didn’t do it now either. They had the home crowd in their corner, and it was the customer who seemed to have more energy than the product.
For a second weekend in a row at that.
So, what now?
The Mets have serious issues to deal with in the rotation, including one with a generational talent in deGrom. Hell, it’s not even clear he wants to be with the team going forward.
They also need to determine if Carlos Carrasco’s option should be picked up, what to do with Chris Bassitt, whether or not to offer Taijuan Walker a new contract, and what plan A, B, C and D are to replace all of them should they depart.
Then there are the Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Díaz situations, finding a real designated hitter and reconstructing a bullpen which was a weak link for the majority of the season. Perhaps they can show some good will in extending both Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso and creating cost certainty with them for the long-term ahead of addressing all of these needs.
The Braves certainly don’t have any issue wanting to and extending their home grown stars. After all, risk is a part of the game. And sometimes the worst move of all is the chance they never take.
The Mets need to find a happy medium between taking risks and being risk averse (see this past summer’s trade deadline) both in their long-term contracts and in their willingness to make trades.
The Mets also have to think about what all of this looks like from the outside, as the optics are not good for this franchise yet again with the low point coming in the form of desperation from the Mets and their manager when they accused Joe Musgrove of using foreign substances in the sixth inning on Sunday.
That’s what a 101-win season amounted to on Sunday: Pure desperation.
After all, this is a business which depends on it’s reputation, and while the Mets have made strides in restoring that faith among the fanbase, the story remains, “same ol’ Mets” in the end.
With the quick exit from the playoffs, a 36th straight season without a championship, being at least 12 months away from their next chance and the need to quickly fix the optics, tenor and tone around the club yet again after another sad ending to a season, this is as big of a winter for the Mets as there has ever been.
After all, 101 wins is only as good as what a team makes of them in the playoffs. And the Mets turned those 101 wins into dust.