One Thing the Mets Cannot Do
After dropping three straight in Atlanta, there is one thing that the Mets cannot do in D.C.: get swept again.
This might be obvious to you, since another three-game sweep would put them nine games behind the frontrunning Nationals, and set their record at exactly .500 (46-46). Such a situation makes their postseason hopes bleak, and increases the hopes of the Miami Marlins — who are currently 43-46 and, only a week ago, seemed to have no chance at all of crawling back into the playoff race.
What may not be as obvious is that the Mets will be OK with any other result from this series with the Nats. If the Mets sweep the Nats, of course, that’s best-case and changes the complexion of the NL East entirely. If the Mets take two, they’ll cut the Nats’ lead over them by a game. And if the Mets lose two, they only fall back one; behind by seven isn’t ideal, but it’s no reason to hit the panic button, either. Further, losing two of three means the Mets still have a winning record (47-45). It may not seem like much of a difference on paper, but in the mind, there is a tremendous difference between being a .500 team teetering toward oblivion, and a team that’s two games over .500. That .500 figure is something of a milestone — and can be viewed either negatively or positively. A losing team reaches for .500, and starts to feel good about itself when it gets there. But when a winning team sinks to .500 — a place where it takes only one game to become a loser — confidence is crushed, players press, and managers panic. Suddenly, a team does whatever it can to avoid losing, rather than play to win.
Ironically, if someone told you in March that the Mets would be a .500 a week after the All-Star break, chances are you’d be thrilled. But the Mets’ surprising first-half surge has created expectations in Flushing; now, a losing season will be a disappointment. Falling to .500 will completely obliterate all the “feel-good” buzz that surrounded the team a week ago. It will also remind everyone of the past two seasons, when similarly successful first-halves were followed by second-half swoons that began immediately after the All-Star Exhibition. “Deja vu all over again,” as Yogi might say.
From D.C., the Mets return home to host the Dodgers and the Nats before embarking on a grueling, 11-game Left Coast trip. It won’t be the same Dodgers team that gave the Mets three wins in four games; these Dodgers will have both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the lineup. On paper, the Mets still seem to have more quality and depth than Los Angeles, but it’s going to be more difficult to beat them than it was at the end of June — it won’t help their psyche if they go into that series as a .500 club. As a team that’s two games over .500, the feeling is much more positive. Much.
Nats – Dodgers – Nats again – 11-game western swing … this could be the most difficult part of the Mets’ 2012 season. Will they come out of it still in the playoff race, or looking toward 2013? Post your thoughts in the comments.