Whenever a once sub-par team gets off to a surprisingly positive start, the scrutinization of said team comes in droves. Is this team for real? Can they contend with the best baseball has to offer? At one point will they founder and come back to earth? These questions are all we hear until a club either indeed does go belly up, or continues to defy odds, surpassing all expectations and standards set for them the winter prior.
That turning point occurs when this team in question finds themselves at a crossroads of their season. Where they are down and must decide if they are going to prove everyone wrong and emerge as a force to be reckoned with, or simply as another mediocre team that will fade away with time as thousands before them have. Many fall to the latter, while a select few rise to the occasion and write their own story rather than have history do it for them.
Of course, this applies here and now to the 2012 New York Mets. They have been examined time and again both by those deciding whether or not they believe in this team and those waiting for the bottom to fall out and for the inevitable cave in. It’s become quite clear that the majority of the baseball world doesn’t have faith in this ballclub, and why should they? At some point in each of the past five seasons this franchise has shown that they do not have what it takes to be a playoff team. What have they proven differently this year to this point to make us think otherwise about this year’s Mets?
They have had some great starting pitching, relatively sharp defense and timely hits up until this past week, but who’s to say that they won’t slow up come the dog days of summer; who’s to say they won’t regress into yet another failed season? It’s easy to ride a hot streak and continue to chug along when all goes well, but the true measure of the strength of a ballclub is when they’re down and when their faces are in the mud. Many wallow in self-pity while others pick their collective selves up, an continue on.
These 2012 Mets have reached that crossroad. They have lost five of their last six games, their bullpen is in tatters, their offense is anything but Amazin’ and the defensive side of the diamond is even worse. They sit 4.5 games out of first, the longest they have been all year. Now after three pitiful excuses for baseball games against their crosstown rivals, they face an upcoming 12 games that will feature series with the Rays, Reds, Orioles and again the Yankees. If the season ended today, each of those clubs would be in the playoffs.
What justifies a team as a true, bonafide contender is maintaining the ability to bounce back from tough stretches, to turn a rough patch into a winning streak. If this team truly is for real, this is their first major test to prove not only to reporters, to other clubs, or other executives, not even the fans; but to themselves, that this is more than just your everyday run-of-the-mill baseball team. This is a team with heart, a team that doesn’t say die even in the most demoralizing of games. This is a team that will scratch and claw, push every button until they come out on top. This is a team with drive, a team capable of defying the odds as so many great teams before them have done. A team with expectations, pride and fight who will not accept mediocrity as status quo.
But above all: this is Mets baseball, and this is our time now.