Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Terrible Twos Befall The Mets Again

They were fun, they were lovable, but this was as high as the 1962 Mets got in the National League standings.

The New York Mets got their start in a year ending in a '2'.  In 1962, no one expected much from the expansion team.  They were fun.  They had a colorful manager.  And they were the worst team in baseball history, losing 120 games, a number that could have been higher had it not been for two rainouts that were not made up.

But the 1962 Mets actually had a decent recovery after their 0-9 start.  For approximately one month (April 23 - May 20), the Mets did not play like an expansion team.  Their 12-10 record over that time period vaulted them ahead of their expansion counterparts in Houston and even pushed them past the more established Chicago Cubs in the National League standings.  But soon after, reality caught up to the 1962 Mets and never let go, as they went 28-101 the rest of the way to finish buried in the Senior Circuit cellar.

Although the original Mets were never expected to do much, their limp to the finish after a crisp stretch of baseball is something that has befuddled the team in every year ending in a '2'.  Saturday morning cartoons taught us that 3 is a magic number, but for the Mets, '2' was their black magic number.  Every year ending in a '2' started off so well for the Mets, then with one stroke of the magic wand - presto, change-o - the team morphed into a shadow of their first-half selves, dashing our heightened hopes with loss after loss.  It all started in 1962 and has continued throughout the decades without fail.

In 1972, the Mets got off to the best start in franchise history.  After defeating the Braves on June 3, the Mets were sitting pretty in the NL East, with a 31-12 record and a five-game lead over the defending World Series champion Pirates.  But that June 3rd game did not end well, as a wayward George Stone pitch struck the hand of Rusty Staub, injuring the Mets' rightfielder and best offensive threat.  Although Staub was not placed on the disabled list immediately, the hand injury caused him to miss a total of three months.  The Mets went 36-46 in his absence and finished in third place in the NL East, 13½ games behind the Pirates.

Ten years later, the Mets thought another outfielder would lead them to the promised land.  In 1982, George Foster was acquired by general manager Frank Cashen in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds.  The Mets had just come off a campaign in which they competed for the 1981 second half division title (the strike-shortened 1981 season was divided into two halves, with the first half division winners squaring off against the second half winners in an extra round of playoffs) and Cashen thought adding a slugger to the mix would push the Mets over the top in 1982.  It turned out to be one of his rare misses in an otherwise outstanding tenure as Mets' GM.

In 1982, George Foster spoke softly but left his mean stick in Cincinnati.

Foster was awful in his first season in New York, but the Mets were winning despite him.  After an extra-inning victory on Father's Day, the Mets stood only three games out of first place with a 34-30 record.  After June 20, every team in the National League East had a winning record.  The Mets, on the other hand, went 31-67 after the Day of the Dad to finish in the NL East cellar, 27 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

The 1992 Mets were full of hope after loading up their roster with veteran players and a former Manager of the Year Award winner.  Bret Saberhagen, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Torborg were all part of a Mets team that was trying to erase the memories of a poor 1991 campaign, the first losing season for the Mets since 1983.  Instead, they became "The Worst Team Money Could Buy". 

But before they became the team that inspired Bobby Bonilla to become author Bob Klapisch's Bronx tour guide, the Mets actually looked like a contender.  After their 15-1 drubbing of the two-time defending division champion Pirates on June 6, the Mets found themselves in second place, a mere two games behind the Pirates.  But then, everything came crashing down on the Mets.  Bobby Bonilla (.249, 19 HR, 70 RBI) finished his first season in New York as the winner of the Player Most Likely To Be Booed award.  Eddie Murray managed to hit a measly 16 HR, his lowest home run output since he became a major leaguer in 1977.  And Bret Saberhagen spent most of the season on the disabled list, winning a career-low three games in 15 starts.  Needless to say, the team suffered after June 6, going 44-64 the rest of the way to finish 24 games behind the Pirates.

If the 1992 squad was the worst team money could buy, then the 2002 team was its kissing cousin.  After a disappointing 2001 campaign, in which the Mets followed up their pennant-winning 2000 season with a mediocre 82-80 record, general manager Steve Phillips decided to go shopping.  A lot.  Phillips completely restructured the team, bringing in Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger CedeƱo, Pedro Astacio, Shawn Estes and Jeff D'Amico, to name a few.   The new faces helped the team do well in the first half.  The Mets were tied for first place on May 29 and were still above .500 as late as June 29.  But the wear of tear of the season (as well as the declining talent level of the new acquisitions) caught up to the team in the second half.

Why so glum, Mo?  Did someone get to the post-game spread before you?

The Mets were in third place, 7½ games out of first on June 25 with a 39-37 record.  From that point on, they had the worst record in the division, going 36-49 to finish in last place for the first time since 1993, a year that featured the haul from the last big shopping spree conducted by a Mets general manager.

That brings us to 2012.  This year's team started off so well.  The Mets surprised everyone by winning their first four games of the season.  On June 3, the Mets found themselves eight games above .500 (31-23) and in a share of first place.  As late as July 7, the Mets were 46-39 and holders of the second wild card spot in the National League.  Then poop happened.  And it hasn't stopped happening.

Since July 7, the Mets have lost 13 of their last 15 games.  Their strong starting rotation has taken a hit, with Johan Santana becoming the first Met since Pedro Astacio in 2002 (naturally, it had to happen in a year ending in a '2') to allow six or more runs in three consecutive games.  In addition, R.A. Dickey has looked like a mere mortal (5.36 ERA in seven appearances since June 24), and Jonathon Niese just took a page out of Fred Wilpon's book, as he was "snakebit, baby" in Arizona last night.  That loss left the Mets a season-high 7½ games behind the Braves for the final wild card spot.  The Mets were already 11½ games behind the first place Nationals in the NL East.

This year's Mets might not have as many high-priced free agents and overpaid malcontents as their predecessors had in other years ending in a '2' (the 1962 and 1972 teams played in an era before free agency), but the one thing they do have in common is their second half performance after a decent to strong first half.

Although the Mets showed so much potential in April, May and June (who didn't think the first no-hitter in team history was a sign of things to come), the terrible twos have befallen the team once again.  It's a trend that inexplicably befuddles the Mets every ten seasons.  It's a trend that will hopefully end before 2022 comes around.

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