Saturday, April 27, 2013

You'll Never Forget Your First Time ... Under The .500 Mark

This scene has been repeated far too many times over the years.

The Mets lost on Friday night to the Philadelphia Phillies, dropping their record on the season to 10-11.  It was the first time all year the Mets dipped below the .500 mark, just one year after they waited until after the All-Star Break to fall below the break-even mark for the first time.  When the Mets went south of mediocrity in 2012, they never recovered.  This year, they'll have 141 games to get back to - and hopefully over - the .500 mark.

During the Mets' infancy years, they would usually fall under .500 approximately three hours after the Star-Spangled Banner was sung for the first time, and they would continue to stare at a higher number in the loss column throughout most of the 1960s.  It wasn't until 1985 that the Mets played an entire season without ever knowing what it was like to have more losses than wins at any point of the season.

They say "you'll never forget your first time", so I'm here to make sure you never forget the first time the Mets dipped below .500 each year.  With very few exceptions, the Mets have annually made at least one turn off the south exit on Interstate .500.  How have the Mets done after getting off at this exit every year?  Let's put it this way.  They never should have gotten off the highway.

From 1962 to 1968, the Mets spent a grand total of one day above .500.  That happened in 1966, when the Mets were 2-1 after three games.  Two games later, they were 2-3 and on their way to a 95-loss season.

In 1969, the Mets lost on Opening Day to start the year under .500 for the eighth consecutive season.  Just as they did in 1966, they went to 2-1 after three games, only to fall below .500 after their fifth game.  They stayed under .500 until June 3, when the team's sixth consecutive victory propelled their record to 24-23.  The Mets would go on to add five more wins to establish a club record with an 11-game winning streak.  They would not go below .500 again during the 1969 regular season, ending the miraculous season with a World Series championship.

The 1970 squad was 1-0 after one game for the first time in team history.  But by Game 3, they were back under .500 at 1-2.  The Mets would ride the .500 wave repeatedly in 1970, going back over .500 at 5-4, before falling to 7-8 just a week later.  They were 9-8 after seventeen games, but 14-15 after twenty-nine.  A four-game winning streak moved them back over .500 in mid-May, but a four-game losing streak a week later sent them right back under.  Finally, on June 14, a Tom Seaver victory pushed the Mets over .500 at 30-29.  They would remain above .500 for the rest of the season, after spending the first two-plus months of the season never more than two games over .500 or three games below it.

1971 was the first year in which the Mets never spent a single day below .500 in the month of April.  By June 9, the Mets were flying high at 32-20 and in a first place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals.  But the Mets' hot start gradually cooled off.  On August 14, the Mets dipped below .500 for the first time in 1971.  At 58-59, it was the latest the Mets had ever gone below .500 for the first time.  The Mets did recover to go back over .500 at 65-64 and never went under .500 again in 1971, but by then, the Pittsburgh Pirates had taken full advantage of the Mets' struggles, jumping over the Mets and the rest of the NL East on their way to a World Series title.

It was more of the same for the Mets in 1972.  Although the Mets did spend one day under .500 at 1-2, they recovered quickly.  By early June, the team was 19 games over .500 for the first time since their World Championship season.  But injuries and poor play doomed the team and they couldn't remain competitive in the division.  Although they never went below .500 again after the third game of the season, the team finished well behind the first place Pirates.

The 1973 campaign was the exact opposite of 1972, in that the team was not doing particularly well by early June - the Mets were 22-27 by June 8 - but played incredibly well as the season came to its improbable conclusion.

For the second time in team history, the Mets didn't go under .500 in the month of April.  May was a different story, as the Mets fell to 13-14 on May 8, then went back over .500 before falling back under on May 28.  By August 17, the Mets were 13 games under .500 and in last place in the NL East.  In the past, this was a sure sign that the season was over for the Mets, as they had never shown an ability to go from a sub-.500 team to a division contender, especially after the All-Star Break.  But the Mets got back over .500 on September 22 and never looked back, taking the division title the day after the regular season was supposed to end and continuing to win until George Stone was bypassed by manager Yogi Berra in Game 6 of the World Series.

The 1974 season was reminiscent of the 1966 campaign, in that the Mets lost on Opening Day, then won two in a row to go over .500 at 2-1, then never spent another day above .500 the rest of the season.  1975 wasn't as bad as 1974, but wasn't as good as 1973 either.  The Mets spent most of the first month of the season bobbing up and down in the .500 ocean.  They were up (1-0), then they were down (1-2).  They were up (7-6), then they were down (10-11).  The Mets went back over .500 on May 17, then didn't go back under the break-even point the rest of the season, even though they came close on many occasions.  On fifteen occasions after May 17, the Mets lost games to move them back to .500 or within a game of .500.  They never lost a game after May 17 when they were facing a sub-.500 record.  If they had played as if they were in danger of falling under .500 all year, perhaps they would have finished with a record slightly better than 82-80.

Three times the Mets dipped below .500 in April of 1976, and they remained a mediocre team through late June, when they fell to 33-37.  But the team played exceptionally well over their final 90-plus games, going 53-39 the rest of the way.  No team in the NL East team lost fewer games than the Mets did after June 22.  But the Phillies didn't start off as poorly as the Mets did in 1976, and they won the division title, even though the Mets posted their second-highest win total in franchise history.  New York finished the year ten games over .500 at 86-76.  It would be many years before the Mets were that many games above .500 again.

The 1977 to 1983 seasons can be summarized in one paragraph.  Simply stated, the Mets sucked.  They were under .500 in April every year, and finished each year at least 20 games below .500.  Even a strike that wiped out over one-third of the season in 1981 couldn't prevent the Mets from losing 20 more games than they won, as New York won 41 games and lost 62 in the abbreviated 1981 campaign.

As bad as the seven-year stretch from 1977 to 1983 was, the following seven seasons (1984-1990) were the exact opposite.  The Mets never finished lower than second place from 1984 to 1990, averaging nearly 97 wins per season over that time.  The Mets lost on Opening Day in 1984 to start the season below .500, then didn't go under .500 again until the fifth game of the 1986 campaign, and even that stay lasted only one game.  The Mets were under .500 once in 1984 (0-1), were never under .500 in 1985 and were only under .500 once in 1986, when they were 2-3.  The Mets finally sank under .500 again on May 9, 1987 and didn't go back over .500 again for over three weeks.  But once they got there, they stayed there, not dipping into the depths of sub-.500 baseball again until the fifth game of the 1988 campaign.

As they did in 1986, the 1988 Mets were only below .500 once, when they fell to 2-3 after five games.  The '88 squad recovered quickly and ran away with the Eastern division crown just as they had two years earlier.  But that's where the comparison ends, as the 1988 team lost the NLCS in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1989, the Mets spent most of April under .500, but went over .500 for good on April 26, when they were 10-9.  Even though the Mets were never more than 7½ games out of first at any point in the season, it never felt like they were in the race for a division title.  The Mets were never more than single-digit games over .500 until mid-August and failed to win 90 games in a season for the first time since 1983.

The sub-.500 record doomed the Mets early on in 1990 and eventually doomed the manager, as Davey Johnson was axed by general manager Frank Cashen after getting off to a 20-22 start.  His replacement, Buddy Harrelson, got the Mets back over .500 on June 13 and had the team in first place as late as September 3, but the Mets fell just short in the quest to win their third consecutive even-numbered year division title.

The Mets continued to compete under Harrelson in 1991, going 53-38 through July 21.  But everything spun out of control after that, as the team lost 23 of its next 27 games to fall under .500 for the first time in 14 months.  When the Mets fell under .500 on August 16, it surpassed the record held by the 1971 Mets as the latest date the team sank below .500 for the first time in a season.  But unlike the 1971 Mets, who recovered to finish the year with a winning record, the 1991 squad failed to make a full recovery.  In fact, the team remained in a sub-.500 coma for six years.

The 1991 campaign was the first of six consecutive losing seasons for the Mets.  In 1992, the Mets spent a few days above .500 early on in the season, but by June 12 the team was under .500 for good.  The 1993 squad won six of its first ten games, but dipped below .500 before the calendar flipped to May.  Once they went under .500, they went way under.  A six-game season-ending winning streak kept the team from finishing more than 50 games below the break-even point.

In 1994, the Mets actually spent more time on the north side of .500 than on the south side during the first two months of the season.  The Mets didn't go under .500 for good until early June and were prevented from going back above it by the work stoppage that put the kibosh on the season in August, just as the Mets were one three-game series sweep away from reaching the .500 mark.

Because of the strike, the 1995 season started late, as did the Mets.  For the first time since 1967, the Mets never spent a day above .500.  However, they did end the abbreviated season on a high note, winning 34 of their final 52 games to finish the season with a 69-75 record.  The Mets thought they could carry over their success from the end of the 1995 campaign into 1996, but alas, after taking two out of three in their season-opening series against the Cardinals, the Mets never spent another day above .500 after their 2-1 start.

The 1997 season began a turnaround for the New York Mets, although it didn't begin immediately.  The Mets lost 14 of their first 22 games in 1997, and didn't reach the .500 mark for the first time until May 10.  But once they got there, they waved goodbye to sub-.500 baseball for most of the next five seasons.  For the second time in team history, the Mets never spent a day below .500 in 1998 (matching the mark set by the 1985 Mets).  The 1999 squad lost on Opening Day to fall to 0-1, then spent one more day under .500 when they were 27-28.  That was it as far as sub-.500 days went for the wild card-winning Mets in 1999.  The 2000 Mets also lost their Opening Day game and were under .500 as late as April 16 (which isn't very late).  That team went on to win its fourth National League pennant.

In 2001, the Mets struggled for a good chunk of the season.  The Mets dipped under .500 for the first time in 2001 after five games, then stayed below .500 for the next 140 games.  But from August 18 to September 27, the Mets reeled off 25 wins in 31 games to go over .500.  They didn't win the division, a la the 1973 Ya Gotta Believe Mets, but they did stay above .500 at year's end, tying the '73 squad with an 82-win season.

If the 1992 team was "The Worst Team Money Could Buy", then the 2002 Mets were a close second.  In 2002, the Mets dipped below .500 on a number of occasions over the first four months of the season, but never fell more than two games below the break-even mark in that time period.  In fact, on the morning of August 10, the Mets were in second place in the NL East and still very much alive in the race for the National League wild card berth.  But a 12-game losing streak put an end to the Mets' wild card dreams.  It also put an end to their time at or above .500.  The Mets went below .500 on August 10 and were rarely above the mark over the next two-plus years, as the 2003 team was last seen above the .500 mark on April 8 (when they were 4-3) and the 2004 squad was never more than three games over .500, falling under .500 for good on July 22.

The 2005 team began the Mets' gradual return to relevance in the NL East.  Although the team was the epitome of mediocrity, bouncing up and down between a sub-.500 record and a winning record, the Mets did manage to end the year above .500, finishing with an 83-79 record under first-year manager Willie Randolph.

The 2006 Mets became the third team in franchise history to never spend a single day below .500, but unlike the 1985 and 1998 squads, this team actually made the playoffs.  The same could not be said for the 2007 and 2008 teams.  Although the 2007 team also never spent a day below .500 (the fourth team in Mets history to accomplish the feat), they failed to make the playoffs, falling short in the season's final game.  The 2008 team also lost their final game to miss the playoffs, but that team did spent a few days below .500 during the season.  In fact, they spent most of June under .500, and didn't go above .500 for good until they ripped off a ten-game winning streak that wrapped around the All-Star Break.

When Citi Field opened in 2009, the Mets expected to bring a winning team over to their new digs.  Mets fans are still waiting for that team to take the field.  Although the 2009 team was in first place as late as May 29, they went under .500 for good exactly one month later en route to a 92-loss season.

The 2010 through 2012 squads were very similar in that they spent most of the first half of the season above .500 before falling under the mark of mediocrity for good after the All-Star Break.  In 2010, the Mets began the season with a 3-7 record, before recovering to win 40 of their next 65 games.  On June 27, the 43-32 Mets were only half a game behind the division-leading Braves and two games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for the wild card.  The Mets were still eight games over .500 once the All-Star Break hit.  But a horrendous 2-9 road trip immediately after the break ended the Mets' division title hopes and when the Mets went on their next road trip, they dipped under .500 for the first time since May 23.  New York managed to go above .500 two more times, at 58-57 and 62-61, but the tires had all but deflated by then.  The Mets finished the year with a 79-83 record.

The Mets got off to another slow start in 2011, going 5-13 over their first 18 games.  But once again, the team went on a roll in May and June.  By July 29, the team was 55-51 and clinging on to their hopes of a surprise wild card berth.  But once again, the dog days of summer brought out the worst in the team.  Three separate five-game losing streaks from July 30 to August 23 pushed the Mets back below .500, where they stayed until season's end - a season in which they regressed to a 77-85 mark.

In 2012, it was third verse, same as the first (and second).  Once again, the Mets did well through the All-Star Break, and once again the post-All-Star Break blues brought the team down.  New York never spent a single day below .500 before the break, but lost 11 of their first 12 games after the midsummer hiatus to dip below the .500 mark for the first time on July 22.  It was only the third time in club annals that the team didn't go under the .500 mark for the first time until after the All-Star Break.

That brings us to the 2013 season.  (It's about time!)  The Mets played at or above the .500 mark for their first 20 games of the season before falling to 10-11 in Game No. 21, ending the team's chances at becoming only the fifth team in franchise history to go an entire year without experiencing a losing record at any point of the season.  By falling under .500 on April 26, the 2013 Mets won't even become the fourth team to spend the entire first half of the season at or above .500 before falling under the mark in the second half.

It remains to be seen if the 2013 Mets will finish the year at or above .500, but if they're going to finish the year with a winning record for the first time since 2008, they can't fall too far under the break-even point.  As you just saw, six of the seven Mets teams that made the postseason spent at least one day below .500 (the sole exception being the 2006 squad).  But only the 1973 Mets were able to make the playoffs after spending time under the .500 mark after the All-Star Break.

In their 51 seasons of existence, the Mets have failed to make the playoffs 44 times.  In 43 of those 44 seasons, they spent at least one day under .500 after the All-Star Break.  There are still two and a half months left until this year's Midsummer Classic, but the Mets have already tasted the sub-.500 waters.  It's just their first time under the mark this year.  Hopefully, it'll be their last.  Otherwise, they'll have a tough time remembering what it was like to be a winning team.

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