Mets Can Look to 2001 Team For Inspiration
For the next four days, there is no baseball-at least in my world (I don’t count the Home Run Derby or All Star Game). So for the next three days, I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with myself, besides thinking about the Mets way too much. I’ll become preoccupied with the fact that they are 7.5 games back in the Wild Card race and 11 in the division, and what kind of streak the Amazins will go on in order to make up the necessary ground and avoid becoming sellers. I’m going to look for inspiration from somewhere. I’m going to look to the 2001 season.
Why 2001? Because believe it or not, the Mets were a great second half team that year and nearly went on a Colorado Rockies-like run towards the end of the season. And they did it with somewhat of a similar makeup to the team the Mets are currently putting on the field. And of course, they were chasing the Braves.
2001 began with high expectations. Coming off their first World Series appearance since 1986, the Amazins returned much of the same team as the year before, including Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura and Al Leiter, with the biggest loss being NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. For the first half of the season, the Mets floundered, going into the All Star Break with a 38-51 record and 13 games out of first place in the National League East. Things looked bad, and believe it or not, they got worse. On August 17th, the Mets lost their seventh consecutive game, fell to 14 games under .500 at 54-68, and were a season-high 13.5 games out of first. And then, the Mets started winning.
They won four in a row, then lost one, but promptly won three more. They lost two, won four, lost one, and then reeled off another six wins, before losing and then putting together a five game win streak, including two wins over the division leading Braves. All of a sudden, the Mets were 3.5 games out of first. They wound up losing a heart-breaker to the Braves thanks to Brian Jordan (a game which I had the pleasure of attending), but swept Montreal to pull within three games of first entering a three game series at Atlanta. The Mets lost two of three (but easily could have won two of three, thank you again Brian Jordan), essentially closing the book on the season (they were now four out with six to play). New York finished with an 82-80 record on the season.
The run put together by the Mets was really quite remarkable. From August 18th to the morning of September 28th, the day they were three games out, the Amazins went 25-6, a winning percentage of 80.7%. What’s more, they did it without a bunch of superstars. Yes, they still had Mike Piazza, who hit .300/.384/.573 with 36 homers that year, but other bats such as Zeile, Alfonzo and Ventura couldn’t duplicate their success from prior seasons. Furthermore, there wasn’t a true ace on the staff. Leiter, Kevin Appier, Glendon Rusch and Steve Trachsel were all OK (Leiter and Appier moreso than that), but none of them had the reputation of a Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens. But the team held together, pitched well and started scoring more runs to put themselves firmly back in contention. Although they fell short, what the Mets accomplished was still pretty incredible.
The current team isn’t exactly like the ’01 squad, but there are some similarities. They are way out of first place, haven’t received a ton of offense (although that’s been more due to injuries than under-performance) and doesn’t have a true ace with Johan Santana still working his way back. But with some positive injury news regarding David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis and Santana, I can’t help but be a little optimistic that the team can go on a tear. The Mets play twenty consecutive games coming out of the All Star Break, hosting Philadelphia and St. Louis (and Florida for a makeup game), traveling to Florida, Cincinnati and Washington, and then returning home to take on Florida again. After an off day, the Mets host the Braves in what could be a pivotal series. New York might need to go something like 14-6 during the 20 game stretch in order to make a dent in Atlanta’s lead, but if everyone returns as expected, who is to say it’s not possible?