Mets: Cruel summer yields to champagne showers


Back in March, all I wanted was for the Mets to finish above .500 — something they hadn’t done in six previous seasons. Even a slightly better finish than 2014 would have satisfied me.

My goal was quite simple — learn to walk before running. I felt we were still a rebuilding team, and indeed heading in the right direction. So, my mind was still quite fixed on the process — not contending for the N.L. East flag.

Spring Training wrapped up on a somewhat sour note. Just when the Mets were getting Matt Harvey back, Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin became the latest Mets pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery. Several other key members of the bullpen remained unavailable through Opening Day as well.

Otherwise, I felt very strongly the Mets starting pitching would carry the day.

With regards to position players and the line-up, my concerns were:

  • lack of a true leadoff hitter.
  • lack of a genuine slugger/cleanup hitter.
  • defense at second base and shortstop.

The month of April panned out just the way I had hoped — and by that, I do not mean I expected them jumping out to a 13-3 start, and going on an 11-game winning streak. I felt if Mets pitching held true, and the offense managed to achieve middle-tier status, they’d hold up well, and play at or above the .500 mark.

April: National League Rank

  • #7 – Average against
  • #2 – WHIP
  • #3 – ERA
  • #4 – Runs scored
  • #6 – Team average
  • #12 – OPS

If you’ve listened to our Rising Apple podcasts, you’ve heard me say, repeatedly, you can’t win pennants in April, but you sure can lose them. By month’s end the Mets owned an amazin’ 15-8 record, and an early 4 1/2 game lead over their division rival Washington Nationals. Their hot start then literally carried them through July 24 (the first day Sandy Alderson’s reinforcements began arriving).

Mounting injuries – particularly to David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud – and Jenrry Mejia‘s (first) suspension exacted their toll over the next two months of the season. While Mets pitching remained strong, a precipitous fall in offensive production resulted in a 13-15 record in May.

May: National League Rank

  • #4 – ERA
  • #2- WHIP
  • #4 – Average against
  • #14 – Runs scored
  • #13 – Team average
  • #12 – OPS

The Mets similarly posted a sub-par 12-15 mark in June, but under far worsening circumstances. An anemic offense already in free fall hit rock bottom, which in turn exacted a toll on their pitching.

June: National League Rank

  • #6 – ERA
  • #8 – WHIP
  • #7 – Average against
  • #15 – Runs scored
  • #15 – Team average
  • #15 – OPS

Washington, meanwhile, posted a 33-21 record through May and June, establishing a 3 1/2 game lead over the second place Mets.

The Mets followed up with their first winning month (13-12) since April. In fact, they were exactly where I thought they’d be — two games above the .500 mark. If I may, July reaffirmed my April logic that if the lineup stayed middle-tier, their pitching would carry the Mets to a winning record (…but nothing more, I was not allowing myself to get ahead of the process).

Led by Curtis Granderson‘s continued productivity, and Lucas Duda‘s late month surge, the offense gained much-needed traction. The pitching rebounded in kind.

July: National League Rank

  • #3 – ERA
  • #3 – WHIP
  • #2 – Average against
  • #11 – Runs scored
  • #10 – Team average
  • #10 – OPS

July indeed proved pivotal. By this time, ownership’s latest round of debt refinancing was public knowledge.  But, after enduring the severity of June, the team’s uptick in performance forced the front office’s hand when opportunity came knocking.

The Mets departed Washington on July 22 after losing two of three against the Nationals, then got whitewashed by Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers at Citi Field the following night. They awoke on the morning of July 24 with a 49-47 record, just three games out of first place.

I never anticipated the latter.

The (non-waiver) trade deadline loomed on the same day the Mets were to open an end-of-month three-game showdown against the Nationals at Citi Field. That said, trade deadline matters never failed igniting a wide-ranging debate whenever broached during our many Rising Apple podcasts.  Throughout, I always maintained a position that making one or two reasonable, and modestly priced MLB ready acquisitions, could have helped the Mets towards maintaining a middle-tier offense.

On July 24, Sandy Alderson hit the mark when he acquired Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard. And considering the Mets’ overall condition (ownership included), I was satisfied with the effort. With their new acquisitions, the Mets posted a 3-3 record during the final games leading up to the actual deadline and their showdown against the Nats at Citi Field.

On July 31, the Mets defeated the Nationals in the series opener at Citi Field. That set the Mets record at 53-50, and positioned them just two games behind the Nationals.

In truth, I never anticipated that on April 11 the Mets would spend their lone day in third place.  Instead, they wound up spending 57 of their first 103 games of the season in second place, and the balance of 46 games in first place. At no time over the first four months of the season did they ever fall more than 4 1/2 games back of the Nationals.

To that point, I was content to finish out the season as constituted and hope for the best.

I feel everything that transpired prior to July 31, 2015, is a body of work belonging to both Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson in nearly equal parts. Obviously, David Wright precedes them all.  Drafted by a preceding regime, he was the first brick laid in this skyscraper rising over Roosevelt Avenue we call the 2015 New York Mets. But, if you looked though the Mets 40-man roster throughout the season, you’ll find an astonishingly balanced number of players listed on either general manager’s resume (that has taken them a combined 11 years to assemble).

What transpired after July 31 is an entirely different narrative for me, because all Alderson’s non-waiver acquisitions highlighted by that of Yoenis Cespedes demonstrated what happens when ownership finally takes charge of their enterprise and dictates its course — something they’ve been incapable of since Bernie Madoff’s ponzi-scheme financially crippled the organization.

To be fair, the Wilpons increased payroll this season after an understood years-long rollback. Prior to the signing of Michael Cuddyer, Alderson was simply shuffling the same money to various transient players. Cuddyer’s signing was never offset, and so represented a real and credible increase.  Ownership then signed off on additional short-term increases at the deadline.

As if with a simple wave of ownership’s hand, the Mets fortunes, and offense, changed on a dime.

Granderson continued his marvelous season long performance as leadoff hitter, Michael Conforto represented himself well, Ruben Tejada actually solidified shortstop, Daniel Murphy began heating up, and we thought Duda was as well.  However, it took Cespedes, La Potencia, to completely alter my thinking. He was the premiere slugger the Mets needed, and the trickle down effect I thought he’d have upon the Mets lineup would be huge (just ask Murphy).

August: National League Rank

  • #1 – runs scored
  • #3 – team average
  • #1 – OPS
  • #1 – home runs

September: National League Rank

  • #1 – runs scored
  • #4 – team average
  • #1 – OPS
  • #1 – home runs

On Aug. 2, the Mets spent their last day in second place. On Aug. 3, the Mets completed a sweep of the Nationals and spent the rest of the season in first place.

As a man who set low expectations entering the season, winning 90 games then became important to me. With the season dwindling down towards its last few games, I felt 90 wins would have been a legitimizing stamp upon their efforts. They accomplished that with a 1-0 shutout of the Nationals in the final game of the regular season, but not before clinching the National League East flag on Sept. 26 in a 10-2 romp over the Reds in Cincinnati.

The Mets finished the regular season seven games ahead of the second-place Nationals. Since then, the Mets have been re-writing several club and MLB postseason records.

This team has been a long time in the making. I thought, and still think, the entire 2015 narrative is one for the Metsian ages. They stayed resilient through the cruelest of summers that finally yielded to champagne showers come fall.

For the moment, we just witnessed one of the greatest romps in National League Championship Series history.

This ride is not over yet. Hopefully there is still more to this story than meets the eye.

That said, enjoy the World Series everyone, and Let’s Go Mets!

Next: Granderson quietly leading the way

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