On Sunday, June 3, the Mets were tied for first place in the National League East at 31-23, and a game ahead of the San Francisco Giants for the final wild card spot.
On Monday, June 11, the Mets are 4.5 games out of first place in the National League East at 32-29, and two games behind the San Francisco Giants for the final wild card spot.
The intervening week has been unkind to the Mets, for sure, and has some fans wondering if this is the fade that presages a summer and fall out of the race. Recent history suggests some parallels to that unfortunate fate, but this doesn’t need to be that kind of slump, and it is premature to assume so. Let’s compare to other recent fades to determine what the Mets need to do, and avoid, in 2012.
Back on July 6, 2010, the Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds to improve to 47-37 on the season. The Mets trailed Atlanta by just two games for the division lead, stood a half-game ahead of Los Angeles for the wild card, and led the Phillies by three games.
By July 25, the Mets lost to the Dodgers to fall to 50-49 on the season. The Mets trailed Atlanta by 7.5 games for the division lead, trailed five other teams for the wild card, even fell 2.5 games behind the Phillies.
So what happened? Well, New York went 3-12, while its rivals all bettered that record significantly. It was the start of an absurd hot streak for Philadelphia, which finished 54-26 from July 6 on, but Atlanta played roughly .500 ball, as did the Mets, from July 25 on. What really provided the margin for the Braves was that while the Mets went 3-12, the Braves went 8-6. Five games lost in just under three weeks, and it sank New York.
The Mets have lost a similar amount of ground to the Nationals in just a week here in 2012. And a three game swing to San Francisco bodes poorly, as well. But fortunately, Miami went 1-6 over that same span, as did Philadelphia. And with two wild cards this year in the National League, there’s a greater margin for error. So far, so good.
The story was pretty much the same in 2009. On July 2, 2009, the Mets beat the Pirates, 9-8 in ten innings to move to 39-39. They trailed the Marlins and Phillies by just one game in the NL East, the Giants by three for the wild card. By July 10, losing six of seven, they were 6.5 games out in the NL East, 8.5 behind San Francisco for the wild card. And that was their high-water mark for the remainder of the season as well.
The recent history suggests that the Mets simply need to arrest this slide right now, before it becomes fatal to their season. And there are some counterarguments for this being the end of the team’s contending days.
Back in 1997, the Mets trailed the Florida Marlins for the wild card by 1.5 games following a 6-5 win over the Braves at Shea Stadium. A 2-6 stretch later, the Mets fell five full games behind the Marlins after losing on July 3 to Livan Hernandez at Shea Stadium, 10-4. For the unexpected Mets, who had faded from the race around this time in 1996 as well, the drop seemed predictable.
It wasn’t. By July 13, New York beat Atlanta, 6-5, to cut Florida’s wild card lead to just 1.5 games. From there, an overachieving Mets team stayed pretty close to the Marlins the rest of the way, finishing four games back.
So how doomed you think the Mets are comes down to this: do you think they are closer in talent to the 1997 team? Or are they more like the 2009 and 2010 editions?