There have certainly been many disappointing seasons in the Mets’ 54 year history. Some that fell below already low expectations, others in which the fresh promise of winter never materialized, and yet others in which they failed to build upon the success of previous seasons.
Of course, it’s that last category that marks the 2016 Mets to date. Only once in franchise history has the team achieved back-to-back trips to the post-season. But certainly, with an already legendary young pitching staff and an offense projected as better than average, finishing among the top five teams in the National League seemed a very low bar for this season to assure a second straight post-season appearance.
Apparently not. Not a one of us saw this mighty struggle coming, and no matter how events transpire from here, June 19 will mark rock bottom for this squad. Getting swept three games at home by a last place team in the early stages of rebuilding, and scoring but four runs in the process, leaves us stunned and speechless.
So without becoming residents of panic city, it is fair to ask where this squad – to date – ranks in the pantheon of Mets’ disappointments. At or near the top, you’d have to say.
The early ‘90’s Mets, for whom there were high hopes, famously became the worst team money could buy, but those teams had never proven they could win to begin with. Likewise, the performance of the ‘01-’04 teams never approached expectations predicated on their lofty payroll. But in both cases, you got the sense those teams were constructed as though they were in a fantasy league.
At the same time, the fact that this ‘16 team is coming off a season for the ages hardly means automatic success when you consider franchise history. For with the lone exception of the ‘97-’00 era in which they ascended from mediocrity to the Subway Series, this franchise has never been good at building upon success.
The miracle of ‘69 was followed by a forgettable and disappointing ‘70 (3rd place, 83 wins). The Ya Gotta Believe run to the Fall Classic in ‘73 (albeit with an 82-80 record) was followed by a 5th place finish and a 71-91 record in ‘74. Following the championship year of ‘86 and a franchise record 108 victories, the ‘87 Mets won just 92 games and were eliminated from the race just before an expected showdown series with the Cardinals on the season’s last weekend. They did win the NL East in ’88, but lost in the NLCS, and that was the end of their run.
Of course, nothing will equal the shattering experience of 2007, when the team that had made it to within one game of the World Series in ‘06 collapsed in historic fashion. Much like this year’s squad, that team suffered through a horrendous June swoon, losing 14 of their first 19 games, portending a slow motion train wreck (losing 12 of 17) to end the season.
This ‘16 team has plenty of time to recover, but the bottom line disappointment of this team failing to even make the playoffs would likely equal that of nine years ago.
It is possible that things could – somehow – get worse from here, but in that case we will just shake our heads and point back to 6/19 and say we knew it was coming. Or this could be a “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” moment. Who really knows? This is baseball, a game famously described by Bart Giamatti as “designed to break your heart.”
There is a temptation to blame injuries, but only losers do that. We can blame the manager or the hitting coach, but they are the same guys who were in place during the magical run of 2015. We can exercise 20-20 hindsight and say the General Manager is responsible, but he’s the same guy that salvaged last season with a series of moves that revived a moribund team. And few people complained about the moves he made over this winter.
Sometimes change for the sake of change is the right prescription, but one never knows unless and until such change takes place. The manager is not currently in danger of losing his job. The hitting coach, who knows? Our brittle catcher will return today. The shuttle between Vegas and Citi Field will likely be activated. Other moves will certainly be made. But sometimes there is simply no accounting for a fall from lofty heights. Sometimes you just have a lousy season.
Just ask the 2015 Nationals, whose similarities to the 2016 Mets are cautionary. They were coming off a divisional crown, hailed as having a starting rotation for the ages and a more than adequate offense, suffered injuries to key players early on and never got untracked. They were a consensus pick to win the World Series, but never came close to fulfilling their promise.
Let us hope the very team we vanquished last year, and which is now well on their way to returning the favor, will not ultimately serve as the model for the 2016 Mets.