Sunday, July 22, 2012

To Continue This Rare Season, The Mets Must Win Now

On Saturday, the Mets lost for the seventh time in eight games since the All-Star Break.  Their 8-5 loss to the Dodgers dropped their record to 47-47.  It was the third time this year the Mets fell to .500, as they were 8-8 in April and 13-13 in May.  They have yet to fall under .500 at any point this year.

Should the Mets win today to go back above .500, they would continue to hold out hope that they can play an entire 162-game schedule without ever spending a day below the break-even point.  How rare is it for the Mets to play an entire season without ever falling below .500?  Let's put it this way.  They've had an easier time winning division titles than they've had playing an entire campaign at or above the .500 mark.

Since their inaugural season in 1962, the Mets have won five division titles (making a total of seven playoff appearances overall).  But they've only had four seasons in which they never spent a day below .500.

The 1969 Miracle Mets might have won 100 games en route to a World Series championship, but even they didn't spend every day of the season at or above .500.

From 1962-1969, the Mets lost on Opening Day every year, ending their chances of playing at or above .500 for an entire season before they had earned their first victory.  From 1970-1976, the Mets had six winning seasons, with 1974 being the sole exception to this era of winning baseball.  But in each of those seasons, the Mets couldn't get through the year without spending a day below .500.

The 1970 Mets were under .500 by the seventh game of the season en route to an 83-79 record.  In 1971, the team got off to a fantastic start.  Going into July, they were 45-29 and had yet to spend a single day below .500.  But over the next six weeks, the team played as bad as their 1962 counterparts, going 13-31.  They fell under .500 for the first time on August 14.  It was the first time a Mets team had gone past the All-Star Break without spending a day below .500.

Although the 1972 Mets became the second team in franchise history to finish a season at least ten games above .500, they spent exactly one day below the break-even point.  After three games, the Mets were 1-2, ending any chances of going an entire season with ever having a losing record.

The 1973 Mets had to believe they were going to win the pennant, but they didn't for most of the season.  In fact, from May 30 to September 20, the Mets were below .500 every single day.  They did recover to win a very mediocre National League East and shocked the Big Red Machine in the NLCS, but their late season success did not carry over into 1974, as the Mets finished 20 games under .500 that season.

1975 and 1976 brought the team back to the winning baseball they had known in the early '70s, but both teams spent time under the .500 mark before the calendar turned to May.

Should we even talk about the 1977 to 1983 Mets?  Let's just say those seasons were darker than Grant's tomb.  Needless to say, those teams spent plenty of time below .500 during that bleak era of Mets baseball.

But in 1984, things started to turn around for the franchise.  The Mets spent one day under .500 all season, and that was after their Opening Day loss to the Reds.  The team recovered from that 8-1 defeat to win their next six games, never dropping below .500 again all year, although they did fall to exactly .500 twice, at 22-22 and 23-23.

Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden played together for the first time in 1984.  By 1985, they were part of a Mets team that did something no other Mets team had accomplished before.

Then it finally happened.  In their 24th season of existence, the 1985 Mets did not spend a single day below .500, becoming the first team in franchise history to play an entire season of winning baseball.  Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals, who spent most of April and May below .500, went 77-38 after June 2 and went on to take the division title from the Mets during the last week of the season.

Although the Mets had an extended era of greatness in the mid-to-late 1980s, the team didn't play another full season at or above .500 for another 13 years.  (The 1991 team came close, not going under .500 for the first time until August 16.)  Just like the 1985 team, the 1998 Mets were in the second season of a renaissance after an extended slumber.  The 1998 squad spent three days at exactly .500 (1-1, 13-13, 14-14), but never succumbed to the dark side, although a five-game losing streak at season's end once again kept the Mets from making the postseason.

In 1999 and 2000, the Mets made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.  But both teams spent time below .500 at some point of their magical seasons, with the 1999 squad dropping under .500 two times (0-1, 27-28) and the 2000 team losing six of their first nine games.

The 2001 Mets finished the season with a winning record (82-80) but needed a strong finish to get there after spending most of the season below .500, just one year after their fourth World Series appearance.  That would be the last time the Mets would finish an entire season above the break-even point until 2005, when the team finished 83-79 (although they didn't go over .500 for good until September 25).

The 2006 Mets were good enough to win the World Series.  But they weren't good enough to win the pennant.  However, they were good enough to become the third team in franchise history to spend every day at or above .500.  After dropping to .500 with a loss in their second game of the season, the Mets didn't see .500 again until the 2008 season.  That's right.  In 2007, the Mets also never spent a day below .500.  In fact, they became the first team since 1985 to never even finish a day at exactly .500, as they won their first four games of the season and never dropped back to the break-even point.

The 2006 Mets began a two-year run in which the team never spent a single day below .500 during the regular season.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the postseason.

That brings us to the Citi Field era, an era in which the Mets have finished under .500 for three consecutive seasons (2009-2011).  The 2012 Mets have yet to spend a day under .500.  But after losing to the Dodgers on Saturday, the Mets fell back to the mark of mediocrity for only the third time this season.  The first two times they fell to .500, they recovered to win their next game.  They'll have to do the same again today.

Only four times in franchise history have the Mets played an entire season without ever falling below .500.  The 1985, 1998, 2006 and 2007 Mets are the only teams in the franchise's 50-year existence to accomplish that feat, making it a rarer accomplishment than winning a division title, which the Mets have done five times.

The 2012 squad is looking to become the fifth team to join that exclusive Mets fraternity.  But if they lose today, their dream will end.  Instead of becoming one of the lucky five, they will join the 1971 and 1991 Mets as the only teams in franchise history to spend their first day below .500 after the All-Star Break.  It's not such a bad thing to be compared to a Gil Hodges-led Mets team, but it would be much more of an accomplishment to be associated with the four teams that never spent a day below .500, as those teams were all part of an extended era of success for the franchise.

Will this year's team be the start of another extended era of success?  Spending every day at or above .500 for an entire season usually leads to that.  But the Mets have to win today to make sure 2012 can continue to be an unexpected magical season.

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