Where Did It All Go Wrong For The Mets?

fffBY MIKE SCHNELL

With every year that passes, the Mets run to the World Series in 2015 recedes a little further into the memory. 2015 was a year of high achievement, and 2016’s wildcard entry was an unexpected bonus. Ever since then, it’s felt a little like the Mets are underachieving. Positive things will be said about the accomplishments of the Mets this year – they do, after all, have a young squad who are still gathering experience at the highest level of the sport – but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that the team should have done better.

The history books will say that it was the Brewers who boldly stepped up to take the final remaining playoff berth when they beat the Cincinnati Reds, but the truth is that it was the Mets’ place to lose, not the Brewers position to win. For all of the high spots of the season, and we won’t pretend that there haven’t been some of them, the nightmare June that the team endured is what really saw this season’s dreams slip away. In the cold light of day now that all is said and done, what happened in June is becoming harder to explain.

Michael Conforto, who experienced something of a return to form in the Mets own victory over the Reds, might have summed the season up best when he spoke to the press after Tuesday’s loss to the Marlins. While trotting out the familiar cliches about the importance of the younger members of the squad gaining experience of clutch situations, he also noted that June had been their undoing. He didn’t offer any explanation of what had happened during that troubling patch of form, but his descriptions were completely accurate. In Conforto’s words, the team couldn’t apply their strategy to a whole game, couldn’t make runs when they were there for the taking, and panicked whenever they found themselves in the lead.

Any team can survive a few unexpected results over the course of a season, and in a sport like baseball, everybody will inevitably lose occasionally. The idea of a team going through a season completely undefeated is almost unthinkable; the Cincinnati Red Stockings did it in 1869, and nobody’s ever been able to do it since. The sport is much more competitive and professional than it was back then, an off-days are to be expected. Losing a game here and there is par for the course. Having a June like the Mets did is not.

In among all the dashed hopes and aspirations for a better season next time around, though, there were a few moments during the season which turned out to be pivotal to the Mets fortunes, and not all of them happened in June. One of them in particular was borderline ridiculous.

This has been the season when many sports fans will have been able to bet on the fortunes on their team for the first time, thanks to the relaxation of sports betting laws across the United States. The odds you could have got on this outcome, however, were more akin to the odds you’d get of making a $100 return from a $1 stake on a mobile slots game. There are a number of basketball-themed mobile slots, and a dollar spent on any of them would likely have been seen as a wiser investment than backing a Mets loss in the circumstances. First-time jackpots do sometimes happen on mobile slots websites such as Rose Slots, and on this particular night, the Mets were on the losing end of the bet. We’re talking, of course, about the fateful night the Mets met the Nationals on September 3rd.

There’s no such thing as a guaranteed result in sport until play comes to an end and the teams are back in the dressing rooms, but there are still turnarounds you never expect to see. When the Nationals went into the ninth inning of that games requiring seven runs to secure victory, everybody assumed it wouldn’t happen. Everybody was wrong. It was the first the in the history of the franchise that the team had performed such a miraculous revival, and the Mets simply turned out to be the unfortunate team on the field when the Nationals decided they were going to break records. In the aftermath of the game, the Nationals were lavished with praise. Perhaps more questions should have been asked at the time about how the Mets allowed it to happen.

Because of what happened in June, the Nationals defeat probably won’t be the enduring image that people take from the Mets’ season. That dishonor will almost certainly go to Jason Vargas, who made national news for threatening to assault a reporter after a crucial loss against the Cubs. Vargas attracted the wrong sort of attention to the franchise, and has since (quite rightly) been traded away. Seth Lugo was probably glad of Vargas’ misdemeanors; were it not for the post-game excitement, everybody would have been talking about the softball he pitched at Javier Baez, which allowed Baez to smash away a decisive home run.

As with all thing sporting, there are people who will see the glass half-empty, and there are people who will see the glass half-full. The optimists will take heart from the way that the Mets escaped from June and turned things around to the point where they still had a ghost of a chance of reaching the playoffs until the end of September. The pessimists will bemoan the fact that the team just doesn’t seem to know how to win consistently. Spectacular one-off performances are a wonderful thing to behold, but they count for nothing if the team doesn’t know how to but the work in and win ugly when it’s required of them.

With all of that said, the season is now over. Very soon we’ll be talking about trades, renewals, who will go, and who will stay. There are definitely young players among the team who should be kept around for the long term. There are also older players whose experience will be invaluable to those more inexperienced players, and they should be retained for next season, too. As much as it pains us to say it, though, we wouldn’t be too sad to see as much as a third of the existing playing squad cleared out to make way for fresh blood – and we wouldn’t be too disappointed with a shake-up of the coaching team either.