Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Look Back At Other Poor Starts In Mets History

The Mets have started the 2011 season on a low note, to say the least. After suffering their seventh consecutive defeat last night (their 10th loss in 11 games), the Mets dropped to 4-11 on the year. The last place Metropolitans now stand six games behind the first place Phillies and three games behind fourth place Washington.

For only the fifth time in franchise history, the Mets have failed to win at least five of their first 15 games. It is the first time the Mets have accomplished this feat in 30 years (see list below).

  • 1962: 3-12
  • 1964: 3-12
  • 1974: 4-11
  • 1981: 4-11

The 1962 Mets were the first team to start off poorly. That pattern continued throughout the season, as the team finished with a major league record 120 losses. They finished 60 games behind the first place San Francisco Giants in the National League. (The league was not split up into divisions until 1969.)

In 1964, the Mets replicated their start from their inaugural season, losing 12 of their first 15 games. This time, the Mets were able to turn it around and finish with the best record in franchise history up to that point. Of course, when a 53-109 record represents your best season, that's not saying much.

The 1974 Mets were coming off their second National League pennant. After overachieving for the final five weeks of the 1973 regular season and the postseason, the Mets took underachieving to a new level in 1974. Despite boasting a pitching staff of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack, the offense hit the snooze button all year, finishing last or next-to-last in the league in batting average, runs scored, doubles, triples and stolen bases. They parlayed that poor start into a 71-91 season, their first losing season since 1968.

The 1981 season was cut short by the players' strike, but the season didn't stop soon enough for the Mets. A year after the Mets proclaimed that the magic was back, the same old Mets popped out of the magician's hat in 1981. The Mets finished 41-62 in the strike-shortened 1981 season, their fifth consecutive season with a losing record.

No Met team since 1981 had started out with a record of 4-11 or worse until this year's edition. All four of the previous teams to start off so poorly finished at least 20 games under .500 and in last place or next-to-last place.

The 2011 Mets are now the fifth team in franchise history to win no more than four of their first 15 games. If they don't turn it around quickly, it looks as if the team that was supposed to pay homage to the 1986 Mets will end up honoring their 1962, 1964, 1974 and 1981 counterparts instead.


Greg Prince said...

Big-ass asterisk regarding 1981: The 41-62 record (plus two ties, the last such deadlocks in Mets history) is accurate but was irrelevant to the competitive realities of the season's structure. The strike created (or rather MLB created in desperation in the wake of the strike) two half-seasons, each of them counting equally toward determining a championship. First-half winners played second-half winners in a playoff round to determine the 1981 division champion, and then it was off to the LCS per usual.

Not that the Mets had anything to do with a championship directly, but it was the first-half Mets who were abysmal: 17-34. The second-half Mets, as Christopher Cross put it all over the radio that August, did the best that they could do, competing, for a while, for the 1981 second-half title before fading to a 24-28 finish. The cumulative record was meaningless (except, I suppose, as a barometer of general lack of progress). The Cincinnati Reds had a cumulative record of 66-42 -- best in all of baseball -- and it won them exactly nothing. They finished behind the Dodgers in the first half (pre-strike) and the Astros in the second half (post-strike). 66-42 had no more meaning than 41-62.

I realize this is hardly the point of your post, but I'm kind of a nut about putting the one-off split season of 1981 in historical perspective.

All that said, they were such a bleeping disappointment when '81 began. I was still floating on the fumes of the meaty part of 1980 (47-39 from mid-May to mid-August) and consciously decided their 11-38 finish that year was the aberration. Then comes 17-34, and a really ugly one at that. From mid-August 1980 to the last game before the strike was called in June 1981, the Mets went 28-72. That's 100 games at a clip that barely exceeded 1962's winning (or losing) percentage.

There went the sense that Joe Torre was leading us to some unspecified promised land and that everything from 1977 through 1981 was leading to anything. Gads, what a disappointment.

And here we are thirty years later and I'm not terribly disappointed. Can't decide because I'm discerning enough to understand that my team isn't all that good to begin with or because I'm too old to feel let down by a dismal team anymore.

Thanks for daring to venture into the darkest catacombs of the Met archives for these worst 15-game starts. Sorry the Mets forced your curiosity.

Greg Prince said...

I may or may not have successfully posted a meandering comment, but shortly and sweetly (in case it was lost to the ether), 1981 Mets only went 41-62 cumulatively. Two separate half-seasons determined the playoff participants that strike year. First half: 17-34 (on the strength of that horrid 4-11 start). Second half: a competitive but ultimately sagging 24-28. Second half was fun for a while. It was all wiped away when Cashen fired Torre, hired Bamberger and it dawned on me that the previous five years had been completely for naught.

Sorry the Mets compelled your curiosity to find these worst starts. Sigh.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

That 1981 season was the only year in the Dark Ages (1977-1983) that the Mets were still in contention for a playoff spot as late as September. After Dan Boitano got the victory in relief on September 21 (20 years to the day before Piazza hit his memorable home run against the Braves in the first post-9/11 game at Shea), the Mets' second-half record stood at 20-20. They were in third place in the NL East second half standings, only 2 1/2 games out of first (St. Louis was 22-17 and Montreal was 21-19).

But quicker than you could say "What Would Dan Boitano Do?", the Mets became the same 'ol Mets and lost eight of their remaining 12 games.

Yup, I'm also sorry the current Mets caused me to delve into the useless Mets trivia part of my brain that's usually reserved for topics such as the names of Kevin McReynolds' dogs when he was a Met (Dustin, Ruffles and Mercedes...just in case you were curious)