Saturday, September 28, 2013

It's Not The Same, But...

I promise you won't be seeing this scene at Citi Field today.

Today at Citi Field, the Mets will not be scoreboard-watching.  They also do not have champagne being chilled.  And don't expect the Braves game to be on in the clubhouse.  However, there is a chance the Mets can "clinch" something today.

Should the Mets win their 4 o'clock game today against the Brewers and the Braves defeat the Phillies in their 7 o'clock tilt tonight, the Mets would officially clinch third place in the NL East, which would be their highest finish in the division since 2008, when the team still received its mail at Shea Stadium.

Technically, the Mets could clinch third before the Phillies take the field in Atlanta, as the Mets won their season series against Philadelphia, taking 10 of 19 games from Cole Hamels and the Phunky Bunch.  Therefore, finishing in a tie with Philly at season's end would essentially give the Mets third place anyway.

Of course, finishing in third place with a record that is still well below .500 isn't exactly a great accomplishment.  However, think of the 1968, 1983 and 1995 Mets.  The 1968 squad "improved" from last place to ninth place in the ten-team National League, then won the World Series a year later.  Naturally, no one expects the Mets to win the World Series next year, but many people do think the Mets will improve in 2014, similar to what the 1984 team did following a lackluster 1983 campaign.

In 1983, the Mets won 68 games, which on the surface looks like a bad year.  However, it was the most wins by the team during the seven-year Grant's Tomb era which began when the Mets traded away Tom Seaver in 1977.  One year later, the Mets shocked the baseball world by improving to 90-72.  The Mets were relevant again, and by 1986, they had won their second World Series championship.

But not too many teams win 22 more games from one year to the next as the Mets did in 1984.  If the 2014 Mets improve by 22 wins, they'd have a good chance to finish with the best record in the league.  Again, that might be too much to expect.  And that's why I bring up the 1995 Mets.

In 1995, the Mets finished the strike-shortened season with a 69-75 record.  Although it was a losing record, the team still managed to finish in second place, tied with the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was the fifth consecutive sub-.500 season for the Mets, but it was also their highest finish in the standings in five years (similar to what the 2013 Mets are shooting for).

The following season, in 1996, the Mets struggled, going 71-91.  But there were flashes that the team was about to turn the corner.  And in 1997, that's exactly what they did.

The Mets farm development paid dividends in 1997, with Edgardo Alfonzo (.315, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 11 SB), Butch Huskey (.287, 24 HR, 81 RBI) and Bobby Jones (15-9, 3.63 ERA) posting breakthrough seasons.  The team also made shrewd trades, acquiring John Olerud for Robert Person.  Olerud solidified the infield and gave the team a proven bat.  And don't forget the acquisition of Rick Reed following the 1995 campaign.  The Mets gave him a shot in the starting rotation in 1997 and he became the team's ace (13-9, 2.89 ERA, 1.04 WHIP).

The Mets finished in a lofty position in the division despite a losing record in 1995, then slowly but surely added more pieces to a young team that already had a good nucleus.  That's kind of like what the 2013 Mets are doing.  This year's squad has been about building a nucleus and this year's offseason is about patching up the holes with quality players who will help the team continue its ascent to relevancy and competitiveness.  It may take a few years for the Mets to be a perennial contender, but the pieces are there for it to happen.  They just have to be put together properly by Sandy Alderson and his Merry Men.

Despite a losing record, the 1995 Mets finished in their loftiest division position in five years.  The 2013 Mets are trying to repeat that feat.  It's not the same as clinching a division title, but I'd sure love the Mets to finish ahead of the Phillies for third place in the NL East this year.  History shows that that type of finish leads to better days in the near future.

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