Sunday, November 1, 2015

Winning In Spite Of Things

A real baseball historian will need to tell me if other pennant winning teams (there's 2 of these per season) are able to win in spite of the things that the Mets won the 2015 NL Pennant in spite of.

They won the Pennant in spite of their owners. Their owners who mismanaged their money outside of giving money to an enormous ponzi scheme, have enormous debt against the team, the ballpark, and their team-majority-owned television network. Debt so big that they need to spend a MLB payroll paying off that debt each season before they can spend a dime on payroll. In spite of their owners who don't get that the only way for the team to be successful (or maybe I'm now wrong) is for them to sell and move aside.

They won the Pennant in spite of their manager. Their manager, who despite being in consideration for Manager of the Year, has made some truly bonehead decisions. To be fair, he's also rolled the dice and had critical decisions pay off. But I wouldn't trust him to manage a bullpen and an OF platoon to win a championship. Playing the players who got you there doesn't work when they're not playing well at all. Or sometimes it does. He flips a coin.

They won the Pennant in spite of having no consistent offense. Offense that was so dead at times that they got no-hit twice (including once in the same calendar month as most of the postseason), and there were many other times during the season, including Game 2 of the World Series, where it almost happened again. I get that a good pitcher, or even an average one, can be dominant in any single game, but the No Hitter is still such a rare feat because even a dominant pitcher will give up one or two hits per game. There were so many games, and even stretches of games, where so much of the lineup had an 0-fer. Most of these players are the players that a team would upgrade to make themselves a Pennant winning or Championship winning team.

They won the Pennant in spite of having no bench. Really, no bench or no backup plans. So much so that trading for 2 non-starters and calling up a kid from AA a week before the trade deadline were considered to be "a catalyst" for this club because it meant they wouldn't have to ride with never-should-be players filling in on a makeshift infield and outfield. There was no protection, players moving around, and just no coverage for injured players for almost 4 months of the season. Looking at what the team looks like on the first of November, I'm not sure if it's much better than it was in late July, or if it just seems that way.

They won the Pennant in spite of having a highly inconsistent bullpen. Outside of the closer (who, remember, was never supposed to be the closer and probably should be regular season team MVP for what he did), was there anyone the Mets could rely on? There were some injuries early in the season that set the path, along with the Mejia suspension, but look at who they're riding now and remember that these guys weren't Mets for most of the season. And one of them, the 8th inning guy (who remember got skipped over in favor of Familia so many times recently), was one of the goats in the game that turned the World Series. I don't even remember who was in the bullpen (which I think was considered a strength early on, but that's such a long time ago) for most of the season besides Familia.

They won the Pennant in spite of big injuries. I don't mean Murphy being on the DL for a couple of weeks. A young, highly regarded starting pitcher, a returning (and maybe even proven) lefty reliever both went down in the same week in Spring Training for Tommy John surgery. The veteran leader in the lineup and on the field was out for most of the season for, basically, a new chronic and debilitating ailment. Other injuries along the way, including an early-season ultimately season-ending injury for a new lefty reliever, arm issues for the former Gold Glove CF, the catcher going down twice during the season. I get that every team has injuries, and that usually makes every Pennant winner look even more impressive because there are a lot of teams who faced similar (in at least some cases) issues that didn't win the Pennant.

It's truly amazin' that they won the NL Pennant in spite of all of these things. This was a team that had 3 hot stretches - a homestand in April, the month of August, and about 2 weeks of October, where it might be fair to say they had good matchups in most of theses games - and basically played like a .500 team for the rest of the season. They had so many problems that they had no business winning 90 games, the division, and the NL Pennant. But somehow, they did. They have the starting pitching to give them 100 wins. Maybe even more. And knowing all of their faults, I predicted 81 wins based on what I saw in Spring Training (and that was with Wheeler and Edgin as factors).

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A Tough Series

Right now I'm a bit numb. A few minutes ago, the Mets blew an 8th inning lead in a game they had lead throughout that would have tied the World Series at 2 games apiece. Now, they're down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination at home in Game 5 tomorrow night. I'm going tomorrow night.

The Mets also blew Game 1 in the 9th inning and again in the 14th inning. They had that one in their grasp. Familia gave up a tying HR in the 9th, and Wright committed an error in the 14th leading to hits and the winning run for the Royals. They had at least a split in KC in their grasp and they blew it. The ending of that game, from the 9th inning on, goes on the list of Mets playoff failures.

Tonight, another bad loss on this list. Maybe this is enough to be a Greek tragedy. They held just enough of a lead until Terry Collins (somehow candidate for manager of the year) decided to go with his unreliable 8th inning guy for the 8th inning, and after back-to-back 1 out walks, decided it was time to pull him. Familia again (who should be the team MVP, and Game 1 was his first blown save since the turnaround started July 30) blows the save, this time, with an error by Murphy at 2B and then another hit through Murphy opens the door for a 3 run inning before Familia got a double play ball (to Murphy) to get out of the inning.

Now, there were other reasons why the Mets ultimate (and now expected) loss in this World Series is considered a failure. They had trouble hitting all season, and a better offense would have bailed them out in each of these cases. But it didn't. That's not quite the point of this post.

What scares me is that these 2 blown games absolutely have the potential of fitting into a franchise pattern that, in 2009, I called "A pattern of bad behavior" (revisited here after the 2009 season had ended. Basically to summarize, there were Mets teams in the playoffs, they failed on the playoffs, one or two moments in that final series was responsible for not only not winning the World Series that year, but having the franchise fall down and not be able to sustain the level of success that got them there. There was one exception to that, and that was 1999, because the team returned and moved upward in 2000. They just weren't the better team in 1999, and there wasn't a chance that they had and blew. It didn't hurt them then, and they did better the following year.

So the question, which probably can't be answered until at least next summer or September, is, where does the 2015 Mets fit in to this pattern?
Do they fit into this pattern, and the 2015 World Series becomes the chance that got away, with 2016 and beyond coming up short until most of these guys are long gone? Or do they break this pattern (or at least go against it) by returning next year (Any playoff appearance is still considered successful because in this narrative, they would basically fall apart because of these blown chances)?

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