Author’s Note: The main point of this post is based on some pre-game remarks made last night by former Mets’ pitcher Ron Darling. The editorializing is all mine. If you reject this premise, blame Ronnie!
The Mets’ magic carpet ride crashed and burned last night at Citi Field. ICYMI, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Mets in 12 innings to clinch the World Series. Congrats to the Royals and their city. This one will hurt for a while. It would be poetic to say that Dame Momentum, who seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the Mets dugout since August 1, suddenly crossed the field into the KC dugout last Tuesday. But the reality of the situation is that the Mets, while vastly improved over last year (or even mid-season), just aren’t completely ready and on the biggest stage in baseball their flaws were finally exposed.
That’s why I loved Darling’s pre-game comments on SNY last night. He compared the 2015 team to the 1984 team, which like this one, won 90 games, the first winning season in over half a decade for this beleaguered franchise. Like their 2015 antecedents, the 1984 team rose to the top mainly due to the emergence of some young arms Darling (23), Dwight Gooden (19) and Sid Fernandez (21). These young arms, especially Gooden, captured the imagination of both the city and baseball. Doc’s starts that year (and next) where must see games.
Acting very un-Metsian like, both the ’84 and the ’15 teams imported veteran help and both took advantage of the sudden crumbling of a long-time division leader (the Nationals this year, the Phillies in 1984). One of the differences in the two seasons was the Chicago Cubs, who in 1984, added pieces like Dennis Eckersley (who interestingly enough was traded in May of that year for Bill Buckner). Like the Cubs of this year who improved drastically, their 84 version was suddenly really good and in the era of two divisions, became the Mets main rival for the division crown.
Like the early August showdown this year with the Nationals, the Mets went into Wrigley that August in second place (they had lost the division lead the week before) trailing the Cubs by a half game. The 2015 Mets sweep the Nationals out of Citi Field, dealing them a blow they would never recover from. In retrospect, the Mets won the NL East that weekend. In 1984, the veteran Cubs swept all four games from the Mets, dealing a mortal blow to their divisional crown hopes.
Ah, but what if the Mets had won a few of those games? What if Gooden hadn’t been blown out of the first game inside of four innings, or Darling in less than five the next day? What if the immortal Wes Gardner hadn’t blown the save in the last game, maybe salvaging the series and changing the momentum back to the Mets? What if the 1984 Mets had left the Cubs for dead in the Wrigley dust, the way they did to the Nats this year? Well, they maybe go on to win the NL East and without a Leon Durham-like error in the 1984 NLCS, perhaps they beat the equally unprepared San Diego Padres and capture an improbable NL crown.
Then, they would have run into the 1984 Detroit Tigers, one of the best teams of that era and been crushed in say, five games.
Take a look at the 1984 team’s roster on Baseball Reference. You will see a lot of names that had played on some previously bad Mets teams, a lot of the same names that wouldn’t be on the 1986 championship team. Take a look at this year’s roster and you see many of the former types of players, many of whom, I’d wager, won’t be on the next Mets world championship team. Both teams have great young arms and a solid core. The 1984 team just wasn’t ready and when they ran into a team of tough veterans in Chicago, every weakness was exposed. The 2015 Mets didn’t encounter this tough, veteran team until the World Series.
Neither team was quite ready. The 1984 team improved and the rest was history. Will the 2015 team improve? Time will tell. Of course I have some ideas on how to do it, but that’s another post!