Maybe that’s what will kill their fans the most. Then again, Mets fans never needed much prodding to tell the world how miserable it is to be a Mets fan. They will definitely have the ammunition now.
Baseball autopsies are always the worst. The NBA offseason has overshadowed Hot Stove for drama and excitement, but that doesn’t stop the latter from seeping into the winter months enough to remind us all that warmth comes when winter has us at our lowest and most desperate. At least that was before the owners negotiated salaries and good players have to wait until spring training starts to get signed at times now. Which means the debate over what to do in baseball’s offseason gets passionate and heated and often absurd.
Especially for those teams that lose in the playoffs, and it will be more so for those that lost in a simple three game series. The teams are on three-game losing streaks. It will be far worse for the Mets, who finished tied with the Braves at 101 wins and missed what still amounts to a sweep (two of them if you count the tiebreaker that cost them the division). If you asked the Mets front office in a blind test whether they would get 101 wins before the season and see if that was enough to win the NL East, they would probably rush out the door with your offer.
Losing two out of three doesn’t provide any answers for what was missing from the team. The Mets didn’t miss out on the Wild-Card round because they didn’t make the big trade at the deadline. Willson Contreras can win one more game for these final two months of the season, but again, 101 wins is a total that everyone will find satisfying. You can’t build a team to specifically win in October, no matter what you do in the regular season. The Dodgers, with the most money and the best front office, just managed one season that will never be repeated (hopefully). The Astros have only successfully accomplished this once. You can’t build teams better than this.
You’re building a team for 162, and maybe you can build some versatile pieces that can reach MLB postseason uniqueness — relievers who can stretch six outs, starters who can come back out of the pen quickly if needed, a manager who knows how it changes the game. But even that might be enough. A team like the 2015 Royals that didn’t hit many homers for six months is suddenly hitting a lot of them in three weeks. A Braves bullpen last year that was okay to good in the regular season suddenly finds three kids who become Satchel Paige and Loki’s love child for less than a month. There is no planning for this, and no acknowledgment of this as something a GM knew would happen all the time. They can only put the pieces in place, or even just close to the place, and hope it will work. The whole thing is a multi-billion dollar electric football game where most shocks cause motions that don’t make sense.
Sure, the Mets needed to hit for more power during the season. They still scored the sixth most runs in baseball. They hit two fewer homers than the Padres in those three games, and you can decide whether that matters or not. It probably matters more that Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, pitchers who have been mostly excellent during the season, haven’t been very good over the past three days. Does this mean next October the Mets will have to sideline them both? A year from now they may both throw three shutouts apiece en route to a rally in Queens, and nothing around them will have changed
That won’t satisfy the baying hordes, and no one is louder than a New York fan base that doesn’t get what they feel they’re entitled to (though in the case of the Mets, and indeed the Jets, their inferiority complex is more saturated in failure). They, and those who speak for them, will scrutinize every detail to see where such a group could fall so short of where it could have been. Surely there must be an explanation.
There is no. Those of us who grew up with a fairer playoff system (four division winners, that was) lament how random it all seems now. It’s hard to fathom the fact that MLB doesn’t have a playoff so much as a “split” where now 18 teams are killed off and the remaining 12 play a game with different standards and rules and basically start all over again. What came before matters so little.
Maybe if MLB moved this round so that the sixth seed would play the 5th seed and the winner would play the fourth seed before the Division Series began. This would provide a prize for all division winners, because if we’re going to have divisions, it should mean something to win them. It would also protect a team like the Mets, clearly better than the other two wild card teams, getting an advantage. But the players will take a break for a week (even though they get one now anyway), and that will never happen.
It’s just the nature of baseball now. You play 162, and then it disappears and 12 teams are in a tournament that you can’t really make a team for. Sometimes you win, mostly you lose, and none of it really means anything.
Which of course is more disappointing. Which is why our winter will be punctuated by the unmistakable performance of some guy in a Doc Gooden jersey, almost certainly with mustard on it.