Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mets Must Conquer The Four Games Over .500 Hump

On the morning of July 20, 2010, the Mets' record stood at 49-44, five games over .500.  They then proceeded to lose their next game, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to fall to four games above .500.  Why is that game from almost two years ago significant?  Because that was the last time the Mets entered a game five games above .500.  And believe me, they've had their chances to get back.

Since dropping to 49-45 on July 20, 2010, the Mets have reached the four games over .500 mark on several occasions, yet have failed to get over the hump to five over.  Here are the results of all games the Mets have played since July 20, 2010 when they began the day four games above the break-even point.

  • July 21, 2010: Entered the day with a 49-45 record.  Lost to Arizona, 8-3.
  • July 29, 2011: Entered the day with a 55-51 record.  Lost to Washington, 3-0.
  • April 10, 2012: Entered the day with a 4-0 record.  Lost to Washington, 6-2.
  • April 15, 2012: Entered the day with a 6-2 record.  Lost to Philadelphia, 8-2.
  • April 30, 2012: Entered the day with a 13-9 record.  Lost to Houston, 4-3.

That's five cracks to get five games over .500 over the past two seasons.  That's also five losses in those five attempts.  Why am I making such a big deal of this?  Because only two teams in major league history have ever qualified for the postseason without being at least five games above .500.

In 1973, the Mets won a very mediocre National League East with an 82-79 record.  They were the only team to finish with a winning record in the division, as the St. Louis Cardinals were the runner-up in the East with an 81-81 mark.  At no point during the 1973 season were the Mets at least five games over .500.  However, they were four games above the break-even point on three occasions during the season, at 4-0, 12-8 and 19-15.

Thirty-two years later, the San Diego Padres replaced the 1973 Mets as the division champion with the poorest record.  The 2005 Padres won the National League West with an 82-80 mark, taking the division by five games over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Padres needed to win five of their final six games to finish with a winning record, as they were 77-79 (but had a three-game lead in the division) after 156 games.  San Diego did, however, conquer the four games over .500 hump during the first half of the season.  In fact, entering the month of June, the Padres had a 33-19 record.  Only the St. Louis Cardinals (33-18) and the eventual World Series champion Chicago White Sox (35-17) had better records than the Padres entering the month of June.  But as the Padres slumped, so did the rest of the division.  From June 1 until the end of the season, the Padres were 49-61.  But no team was able to take advantage of San Diego's slump (the San Francisco Giants had the best record in the NL West after June 1, if you can ever call a 52-60 record the "best") and the Padres held on to win the division crown.

The 1973 Mets and the 2005 Padres are the exceptions to the rule.  And that rule is that a team has to climb above .500 and keep climbing after they pass the break-even point.  The Mets and Padres needed the rest of the division to play poorly for them to come out on top.  Current teams can't even count on the wild card if they're barely better than mediocre.

In 1995, the Colorado Rockies won the wild card in a strike-shortened season with a 77-67 record.  Their .535 winning percentage is the lowest of any wild card winner.  Over a full 162 game season, no team in either league has won the wild card with fewer than 88 victories.  (The 1996 Baltimore Orioles and the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers both seized their respective league's wild card with an 88-74 record.)  Simply stated, if you want to crash the playoff party, you better not settle for mediocrity.

Entering the month of May, this year's Mets have not spent a single day below the .500 mark.  However, they have also not been able to surpass the four games over .500 hump in three tries this year.  Going back to the summer of 2010, that number increases to five attempts.

Despite being one of the surprise teams in baseball over the first month of the season, the Mets still have a long way to go to truly be considered contenders in the National League East.  There may be a second wild card in the National League this year, but that doesn't mean the Mets should settle for mediocrity in their attempt to reach the postseason.  1973 and 2005 were aberrations.  The Mets have to conquer the four games over .500 hump if they're going to stay in contention for the entire season.

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