There’s this myth that the Mets aren’t in a pennant race, this spurious claim bolstered by the daily MLB standings found in your morning paper. But the precise reason many have come to such a silly conclusion is this: most papers, and I sadly include The Journal News in this, are printing the standings upside down, with the teams winning more getting printed above the teams with losing records.
Sure, if you are preoccupied with things like “who will make the playoffs” or “who has a mathematical shot at winning the World Series”, seeing which teams have the best records matters. It’s a little small-minded, if you ask me, but there are fans who really think that way.
The Mets, though, are right in the middle of a fierce battle for the true pennant: finishing with one of the ten worst records in baseball, and thus protecting their first round pick should they sign a qualified free agent.
You might remember this as the alleged reason the Mets didn’t sign Michael Bourn last winter. And if you’d like management to have fewer excuses to avoid spending this winter, even though the near utter lack of 2014 salary commitments and yawning chasms in the starting lineup should be reason enough, this is an important distinction, indeed.
As the great Michael Baron pointed out, the Mets are currently tied for tenth-worst record in the league. The bottom ten teams can sign any free agent they want without surrendering that pick. And with a truly poor week, the Mets can go a long way toward protecting that pick more fully. They stand just 1.5 games behind the Giants-that is to say, 1.5 games better than the Giants, and thus 1.5 games worse when it comes to protecting that draft pick. The Giants are sixth-worst in the league, so with some fancy losing, the Mets are within striking distance of the Giants, Twins, Mariners and Padres.
The Mets can’t guarantee moving up, which is to say, moving down. Sure, they can lose: but there’s every chance their rivals could lose just as much, if not more. When battling the worst teams in the league, every win jeopardizes their standing. And this Mets team, even with so many players lost to injury, has won more than anyone has any right to expect. Adding pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka, which on paper should be the kind of acquisition that makes a protected draft pick a certainty, only proves that teams ultimately need to go out and lose on the field.
So if you aren’t scoreboard-watching, you should be.