Familiar Storylines Play Out For The Skidding New York Mets, Who No Longer Lead The NL East
The information first appeared in the Mets’ game notes on July 10 and was updated for each of the subsequent 22 days in which the Mets played a game.
The Mets have been in first place since Saturday, May 8, a streak of 63 days…this ties their longest run atop the East in the last 14 seasons (August 3, 2015 through the end of that year)…The 2007 Mets (135 days in a row) were the last iteration of the club to be in first longer than 63 days in a row, per Elias…
It served as the rare dual threat in a notes package — the information that presented the team in a favorable light while also putting its achievements this season into a proper context.
Of course, for Mets fans and anyone with even a cursory knowledge of their recent history, the note also came with a tinge of ominousness with the mention of the 2007 team, whose September collapse defined an era and remains one of the most stunning in-season downfalls in baseball history.
There’s nothing subtle about the ominous tones now, nor will an updated version of that game note be in this afternoon’s package.
The Mets’ first-place run ended after 90 days Friday night, when the Phillies — yup, the franchise whose NL East dynasty began with the miraculous September takedown of the Mets in 2007 — moved atop the division with a 4-2 victory that continued an eight-day span of the Mets spinning the “greatest hits” of the past regime.
The Mets are 9-13 since the All-Star Break and 2-6 since the trade deadline July 30, when weeks of anticipation yielded a relatively quiet haul — Baez and pitcher Trevor Williams were acquired from the dismantling Cubs in exchange for 2020 no. 1 pick Pete Crow-Armstrong — followed by the disquieting Jacob deGrom news that might have explained the low-key deadline.
Baez, as exciting as he is flawed, is beginning to feel like a glitzier version of the flotsam-and-jetsam, shuffling the deck chairs acquisitions the Mets used to make while fringe contending at the deadline. While Baez helped steal a game for the Mets on Wednesday with a nifty slide into home and a home run, he’s also struck out 12 times and walked once in 30 plate appearances with the Mets. On Thursday, he stepped to the plate five times with a total of eight men on base and struck out every time — the first five-strikeout game for a Mets player since Ryan Thompson on Sept. 29, 1993. It’s never a good thing for any modern Mets team to conjure up memories of 1993.
Still, with a winnable NL East and an ownership newly committed to building and maintaining a perennial big-market contender, the acquisition of Baez was easily defensible, as long as the Mets continued progressing in their attempts to construct the foundation that rarely existed under the Wilpons.
One way to NOT do that is by failing to sign a player drafted 10th overall. It will be years before we know if the Mets were prescient or foolish in not signing Kumar Rocker, who is preparing for the 2022 draft after he and the Mets did not agree to terms by last Sunday’s deadline.
But contrary to what owner Steve Cohen implied in an ill-advised Tweet Sunday night, the top of the 2021 draft will long represent a missed opportunity for the Mets even if Rocker never pans out because of whatever apparently cropped up in a physical and the player the Mets select at no. 11 overall next year — the Mets will receive that pick as compensation for not signing Rocker — turns into a star.
The Mets don’t get to save the money unspent on Rocker — believed to be more than $1.3 million — anywhere. Undrafted free agents can’t be signed for more than $20,000 and there’s no rolling over money from one year to the next. Had the Mets safeguarded themselves against things going sideways with Rocker during the three-week period between the draft and the signing deadline, they could have spent some of the money earmarked for Rocker on higher-upside picks selected later in the draft.
Instead, the restocking effort will be delayed another year for the Mets, who have just two first-rounders remaining from their last seven drafts: David Peterson (2017), who is in his second season with the Mets, and Brett Baty, a 2019 pick who was recently promoted to Double-A Binghamton.
As for Cohen saying the soft part out loud about just how teams view players? It probably won’t impact whether or not players will sign with the Mets, especially if they’re as aggressive as they were last winter in trying to outbid the Dodgers for the pitcher whom we shall not name. But it was as imperial and tone-deaf as anything the Wilpons said (or didn’t say) with their silence most of the past two decades and a reminder the new owner has his own checkered and questionable past.
Of course, as the saying goes, winning is the best deodorant, and Cohen’s done nothing to make anyone believe he’s no less committed to his goal of winning at least one championship within his first five seasons as owner. At some point — sooner than later, if the track records of the executives in charge are any indication — any slides or missteps by the Mets will not automatically conjure up memories of the franchise’s darker days.
Team president Sandy Alderson didn’t return to the grind at age 73 just to piece together an underwhelming team and acting general manager Zack Scott was in the front office for each of the Red Sox’s four titles this century. Scott surely knows the challenges of establishing a winning culture within an organization entrenched in bad habits and changing the internal and external expectations so reflexive leaps to the worst-case scenario are no longer necessary.
But right now? The Mets are shedding games in the NL East like it’s September 2007 and sounding and looking a lot like their fore-bearers did in August 2002, when the Mets began the month 4 1/2 games out of the wild card and finished it in last place in the NL East after going 6-21 and scoring two runs or fewer 14 times.
The Mets are 9-for-51 (.173) with runners in scoring position in their last five games. But as The Athletic’s Tim Britton pointed out last night, their batting average in non-RISP situations over that span is a mere .229. The Mets are a mess no matter by every statistical measure.
The Mets probably aren’t going to fall into last — not with the Nationals embarking upon a rebuild — but the sights and sounds last night of Brandon Nimmo glaring at the field, Luis Rojas shaking his head in the dugout and a muted Marcus Stroman in his postgame Zoom were far too reminiscent of the helplessness that overwhelmed the Mets 19 years ago this month.
The postgame Zooms with Stroman — who makes no secret of his disdain for the traditional media — are usually edgy and defiant. Thriving on the perceived negativity of others, Stroman will almost always find the positive elements out of a defeat and refuse to answer any question he thinks will generate a tabloid-esque headline.
But there was no edge to his comments just after a loss defined by the Mets’ inexplicable decision not to let Stroman, an adept hitter and hyper-competitive athlete, swing the bat with the bases loaded and none out in the fourth because the Mets didn’t want him hitting into a double play. Stroman watched three strikes before Nimmo hit into a double play.
When asked about the fourth-inning “strategy,” Stroman simply acknowledged he was told not to swing.
An inning later, Phillies pitcher Kyle Gibson, who’d spent his entire career in the AL prior to being acquired by Philadelphia last week, singled with the bases loaded to give the Phillies the lead for good and saddle Stroman with a hard-luck loss.
Now the Mets must win today and then again tomorrow — against Zack Wheeler, who, in a familiar tale, was not tendered a legitimate contract offer by the Mets’ previous regime before he signed with the Phillies in December 2019 and subsequently completed his transformation into a Cy Young candidate — to climb back into first place by Monday.
“I know you guys are looking for an answer,” Stroman said earlier Friday night in answering a question about the Mets’ struggles.
He’s not the only one.