Mets Will Have To Destroy NL East
If recent history is any indication of future performance, and the past 43 years of history is indicative of anything, the Mets will have to beat the living daylights out of the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies to be a .500 team in 2015.
To understand this theory, one needs to look at the Mets’ records against the NL East and non-NL East clubs since Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins took over leadership of the club in 2011. Below are the “plus/minus” results from season to season (0 means the Mets split; a + sign means the Mets won the season series by that many games, while a – sign is the number of games below .500 that the Mets were in the season series vs. that opponent. Got it?)
Mets Season Record: 77-85
vs. Atlanta Braves: 0 (9-9)
vs. Florida Marlins: 0 (9-9)
vs. Philadelphia Phillies: -4 (7-11)
vs. Washington Nationals: -2 (8-10)
NL East Total: -6 (33-39)
vs. all other teams -2 (44-46)
It was the first season of the Fantasy Front Office and Sergeant Collins in charge, so perhaps you can call it a throwaway year. Looking back at some of the moves, and reviewing the information relayed to the public, it was clear the team wasn’t serious about winning for a few years. So, the record was what it was. All things considered, though, the Mets didn’t do all that bad against their division rivals, especially considering that the Phillies won 102 games and the Braves were 16 games over .500 that season. Perhaps if David Wright and Carlos Beltran didn’t miss 120+ games between them, the bullpen hadn’t blown 24 saves, and either Brad Emaus or Ching-Ling Hu would’ve fulfilled the potential expected by J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta (respectively) and taken over second base, things could’ve been very different.
Mets Season Record: 74-88
ATL: -6 (6-12)
FLA: +6 (12-6)
PHL: +2 (10-8)
WSN: -10 (4-14)
NL East -8 (32-40)
OTHER -6 (42-48)
Sometimes, to take one step forward, you need to take two steps back. This was step back number one, as the Mets were pummeled by the Nationals and beaten up by the Braves. However, the Mets made mincemeat of the Marlins, and were plus-2 against a .500 Phillies club. In case you forgot, this was the year that Ruben Tejada looked like the future at shortstop, Ike Davis hit 32 homeruns, Scott Hairston was a star, Andres Torres (and Ramon Ramirez, for that matter) made no one forget Angel Pagan, and Frankie Francisco shat the bed. Oh, but for those who glaze over team performance and focus on individual highlights, R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young and Johan Santana spun the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Mets Season Record: 74-88
ATL: -1 (9-10)
FLA: -3 (8-11)
PHL: +1 (10-9)
WSN: -5 (7-12)
NL East: -8 (34-42)
OTHER: -6 (40-46)
Instead of only 18 intra-division games, MLB clubs played 19 games against their division rivals, which meant one more game against the NL Beast Nationals. On the flip side, that extra game meant the Mets were a game ahead of the Phillies … but, also a game behind the division-leading Braves, so it was a wash. And, WTF? How didn’t the Mets sink the Fish, who lost 100 games? To add insult to injury, no one on the Mets won a Cy Young nor pitched a no-hitter, Scott Hairston was elsewhere, and Ike Davis hit only 9 homers (and didn’t hit his weight). But at least Eric Young, Jr., was a runner-up for a Gold Glove.
Mets Season Record: 79-83
ATL +1 (10-9)
FLA +3 (11-8)
PHL +7 (13-6)
WSN -11 (4-15)
NL East: 0 (38-38)
OTHER -4 (41-45)
The Mets finished in second place! The Mets finished in second place! Hey! Did you see??? The METS FINISHED IN SECOND PLACE!!!! Never mind that it was a TIE for second place with the Braves, a team that tanked the last six weeks of the season. Never mind that the Mets still finished 17 games behind the division-leading Nationals and 9 games out of a Wild Card berth. Never mind that, in their fourth full season at the helm, Alderson and Collins finally equaled the record of the Omar Minaya / Jerry Manuel 2010 Mets. Never mind all that, because the Mets finished in second place and therefore a dynasty in Flushing begins in 2015.
Not so fast.
The good news for Mets fans: the Mets beat the bejesus out of the Phillies. The not-so-good-news: the Nationals beat the bejesus out of the Mets, and the Mets were only a game better than the Braves. Why are these facts from the past so important to the future of the Mets? Look at the numbers above, and you’ll see a pattern. Every year, the Mets have had a losing record when playing outside the division. Playing nearly half of their games against division rivals, the Mets have yet to post a winning record. Their best year (of the past four) outside the division was in 2011. That was the year the NL East was still the NL Beast, with an average record of 84-77 and a winning record overall against the NL Central, NL West, and Adulterated League opponents. In 2012, the NL East still reigned supreme, with an average record of 83-78 and winning records against the other two NL divisions. In 2013, the tide turned as NL East clubs had an average record of 78-83. In 2014, only one NL East team had a winning record and the average record was 80-81; the only reason it was that good was because the Nationals were 30 games over .500. What’s clear from the numbers is that the NL Central and NL West were stronger divisions in 2014, which suggests that those two divisions had better teams. If you’ve been paying attention this past winter, you may have noticed that, for the most part, NL Central and NL West teams were the most active in attempting to improve their clubs for the short-term/near future. Based on the transactions we’ve seen since the fall, a gambling man would bet that the Cubs and Padres won’t be patsies in 2015, for example. Chances are also good that the Diamondbacks won’t suffer the same avalanche of injuries in ’15 that demolished their ’14 season, and similar could be suggested for the Reds. Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies clearly are rebuilding, and more or less crossing off 2015, which means they’ll be fodder not only for their division rivals but likely will give everyone else a few more victories.
To provide a little more context, let’s assume the Mets are able to play .500 against non-NL East clubs — something they’ve not done in the Alderson/Collins era, and something that would appear, on paper, to be a long shot. In addition to accomplishing that feat, the Mets will also have to be +5 against each of the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, and no worse than -5 against the Nationals (remember, the Mets were -10 vs. the Nats last year). So, again, the Mets will need to be at least 12-7 against each of the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins, AND be no worse than 7-12 against the Nationals. Go ahead and play with the numbers all you like; this was my way of simplifying the challenge in a way that seems plausible. And by the way, the last time the Mets were +5 against ANY NL East club — prior to last year against the Phillies — was in 2008, when they were 12-6 against the then-lowly Nationals. I went back 25 years and couldn’t find a year when the Mets were +5 against more than one division rival — the last time it happened was 1988, when there were only two divisions and the Mets were 12-6 vs. the Pirates, 14-4 vs. the Cardinals, and 12-6 vs. a team called the Montreal Expos. And the only other times in Mets history that happened? 1986 and 1969. Huh.
Bottom line is that it’s doubtful the Mets will have a winning record against opponents outside their division. And if that assumption is true, then the Mets will have to destroy everyone in the NL East not from Washington, D.C., just to get to .500. But that’s a tall order as well, because they’ll have to beat their division opponents as handily as they did the two times in their history that they were World Champions.
Of course, this is all conjecture, and we’ll have to see how the season plays out. Maybe the Mets will be good enough to play closer to the Nationals than we think. Maybe the Marlins won’t be as good as some think. Maybe the Phillies and Braves will be in a race to see who can get to 100 losses first. Maybe, all those things will happen, and even if they do, the Mets will still have to perform much better against non-East opponents than they have in the very recent past, and that may be even more difficult than performing to the heights of previous Flushing World Champs.
Do you see a hole in this theory? Let me know in the comments.