Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mets Miracle Run Continues

The Mets have been unbeatable over the past three months (CBS New York)
Three months ago the New York Mets were one game over .500. Now they're in the World Series.

Back in April, not even the most optimistic Mets fans would have predicted that, While New York looked promising with all its young starting pitching, it lacked the bats to complement their bounty of arms. What's more, their rotation was woefully short on experience (excepting Bartolo Colon, of course, who I believe began his career during the Deadball Era). None of their four best starters had completed more than one full season in the Show. Rookie phenom Noah Syndergaard, who began the season in the minors, hadn't started a major league at all, and Matt Harvey was coming off Tommy John surgery. So while the Mets' rotation had the potential to be great, it was also a real wild card.

Their offense, on the other hand, wasn't scaring anybody. New York's lineup looked pretty thin, even by National League standards, and their best hitters (David Wright, Curtis Granderson) were in decline. If anyone needed to load up on bats last winter, it was the Mets, but the best they could get was Michael Cuddyer. When that's you're biggest move of the offseason--signing an oft-injured corner outfielder about to turn 36--and you haven't had a winning season since the second Bush administration, then you're probably not bound for World Series glory.

Especially since the NL East was already a foregone conclusion, what with the Nationals assembling the best team in baseball (on paper). And with three great teams residing in the NL Central, not to mention the Dodgers and reigning World Series champs in the NL West, there just didn't seem to be any room for New York at the postseason table this year. The Mets were still a year or two away.

Or so they seemed. Washington, plagued by injuries and a team-wide malaise, never got going. That allowed the Mets to stay close all summer, even after losing Zack Wheeler for the entire season and Wright for most of it. They weren't playing exceptionally well, barely staying above .500, but the door was wide open if they could just get on a roll.

But for that to happen, New York needed help. Their pitching was great, better than advertised even, but their punchless lineup wasn't scoring enough runs. So Sandy Alderson injected some life into his floundering offense, landing the impact bat New York desperately needed by dealing a pair of minor leaguers to the rebuilding Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes. While at the time viewed as a consolation prize for their failed try at Carlos Gomez, Cespedes was exactly what the Mets needed: a righthanded slugger.

In baseball we tend to overstate the importance of deadline deals. Two-thirds of the season is already in the books by the time these moves are made, so any additions or subtractions aren't going to move the needle much. Had Bryce Harper or Mike Trout been dealt on July 31st this year, they only would have added about three wins to their new teams, which would have made a difference for maybe a handful of clubs. Often times, when teams get hot after adding talent at the deadline, what we're really seeing is a random hot streak (part of the game's natural variance) or an underperforming team playing up to its true talent level (as we saw with this year's Blue Jays). One man can only do so much in baseball, and that's especially true when his impact is limited to just two months.

But as a fan, it's so easy to be seduced by a simple narrative. Toronto wasn't doing so hot, but then they got David Price, and he pitched really well, and they won the division. New York was treading water, until they added Cespedes, and suddenly their anemic offense went bananas. The Blue Jays and Mets were mediocre before they got those guys but were great after so, ipso facto, Price and Cespedes made them become great teams. Obviously that's not true, because we've seen in past years how not even a full season of Mike Trout can turn a flawed team around, but it fulfills our most basic human logic requirements. It makes for a good story--bad at the beginning, acquired elite player in the middle, great by the end.

That's why so many people have been touting Cespedes as an NL MVP candidate, never mind the fact that he spent two-thirds of the season on an American League team. Yes, New York's offense did go crazy after Cespedes arrived, setting a club record for home runs in August and nearly matching their scoring output from the season's first four months in its final two. In truth, though, the Mets' offense dramatically improved for a bunch of reasons; Wright came back, Travis d'Arnaud had a big second half, and other guys started hitting. Cespedes was one of those reasons, but not the reason.
Cespedes sparked New York to the playoffs, or so the story goes (Fox Sports)
But all of that is besides the point. The bottom line is, with Cespedes on board, the Mets took off. They immediately won seven in a row, moving into a tie of first on August 2nd and taking it over for good the following day. Towards the end of August, they won seven in a row again, lengthening their division lead to 6.5 games. The Nats had finally begun playing better but couldn't catch the streaking Mets. New York won eight in a row in early September, burying Washington for good with three weeks left in the season. They stormed to the finish line, winning the division by seven games over the disappointing Nationals.

Then it was on to the NLDS, where they squared off with the star-studded Dodgers. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of beating a team that could throw the two best pitchers in baseball this year--Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke--four times in a five game series, the Mets squeaked by, advancing after a come-from-behind 3-2 win in Game 5.

In the NLCS they encountered one of the few teams hotter than them since the trade deadline in the Chicago Cubs. With their bruising, fastball-feasting lineup and a pair of aces, the Cubs appeared to have the upper hand. If any team was equipped to beat New York's flamethrowing rotation, it was Chicago.

The Cubs went down in four.

Now New York is headed to the World Series, something that seemed impossible just a few short months ago (or even a week ago, when they were up against Greinke on the road in Game 5). Despite winning the fewest regular season games of the NL's five playoff teams, the Mets are the last ones standing. They've already accomplished much more than anyone thought possible of them, no matter what happens against the Royals next week, Winning it all would be the cherry on top, but even if they lose the sundae will still taste amazin'.

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