It is November 1st, 2015. Sandy Alderson soaks in that his team just fell short of winning the World Series, and that two of his best players are about to stride with their heads held high into free agency.
It is December 9th, and Alderson has replaced Daniel Murphy with Neil Walker and acquired Asdrubal Cabrera to play shortstop.
It is January 26th, 2016, and Yoenis Cespedes has made his triumphant return to Queens. A city applauds and allows itself, for just a moment, to dream of completing what was started the previous October.
It is September 30th, 2007. Tom Glavine implodes and the Mets lose to the Marlins as the Phillies defeat the Nationals to win the NL East and freeze New York out of the playoffs, completing a collapse of biblical proportions for a team that had owned the East nearly all season.
It is August 18th, 2016. The Mets deploy a lineup featuring Ty Kelly, T.J. Rivera, Justin Ruggiano and Kelly Johnson. They are opposed by Madison Bumgarner. Jacob deGrom, right in the thick of the Cy Young award chase, has the worst outing of his career. Michael Conforto is still trapped in Las Vegas. They fall below .500.
The 2015 Mets are an all-time baseball story. Far from a preseason favorite, they scratched their way to contention as Washington devoured themselves tail-first. A fair start, followed by a June and July of barely managing to tread water long enough to have their feet nipped at by sharks, paid off in full with the acquisition of Cespedes and the ensuing resurgence for the entire time. Public wars with Matt Harvey in the press and a botched trade for Carlos Gomez, among other things, lost their luster in favor of the unbridled euphoria of going gangbusters en route to the World Series.
Alcides Escobar’s leadoff inside-the-park home run may eventually be remembered as the moment that reality crashed back down onto the Mets. From that moment forward, the Mets were on the ropes. They lost and, except for a wild winning streak in April, have never felt truly dangerous since then.
The only projected regular in the lineup in Thursday night’s loss in San Francisco was Travis d’Arnaud. He entered the day with a sub-.300 OBP, his usual rash of bumps and bruises, and a near total inability to throw out baserunners. All of the other starting players were either hurt, in Triple-A, or in the case of Curtis Granderson, on the bench.
Now 35 years old, Granderson looks to be on his last legs. He has hit only .224/.313/.421 and not drawn the walks that made him a valuable presence atop the Met lineup in 2015. His replacement, Jay Bruce, was hitting .186 at the start of play on Thursday.
James Loney, who replaced Lucas Duda, has a 91 wRC+ and is playing a brand of defense that looks nothing like the yeoman’s work that he’s been known for in the past.
The development of Noah Syndergaard into a generational pitcher and Jacob deGrom’s steady brilliance have been lost in a rash of injuries that’s so typical of the Mets that some have called for the heads of the training staff in recent years. Cespedes continuing to hit like he did down the stretch ended with an injury of his own. There was a debate about his golf habits too, because the team just can’t find a way to make the back page of the Daily News for positive reasons.
For every Bartolo Colon home run, there is a revelation that Colon is a deadbeat dad to his secret second family and a reacquisition of Jose Reyes, who was fresh off a suspension for domestic violence.
For every strong outing by Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed, there is a player who is day-to-day with an injury for nearly a week before being placed on the DL for weeks after that.
When the Mets bring Michael Conforto back, he should play over Curtis Granderson. https://t.co/h4dAkyC3fE— Eric Simon (@AmazinAvenue) August 18, 2016
Conforto, who started the season so strongly, went cold and Terry Collins refused to touch him. The cold streak persisted due to a lack of consistent plate appearances, and the endlessly promising prospect is languishing away at Triple-A without an ounce of trust from Collins. Instead, the manager has placed his faith in washed-up veterans and tweener prospects forced into big league duty by the DL’s endless hunger.
Matt Harvey is lost for the year due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur, as is Steven Matz, who will miss his next start due to a shoulder issue.
These are not the 2015 Mets. These are the Mets of every other year since 2007.
Between 2008 and 2015, the Mets had their moments but were largely consigned to toiling away in relative obscurity as the Braves asserted their dominance over the NL East, and the Yankees used their last hurrah of strength to keep the city in a stranglehold. There were some bright spots for sure. These were the days of David Wright, of Johan Santana and Angel Pagan.
They were also the days of injuries and poor investments. Jason Bay gave Mets fans a bigger heel to root against than the Braves could ever provide. Willie Randolph was forced out, and then so were Jerry Manuel and GM Omar Minaya. It was Omar’s Team, Omar’s Mess.
The Mets were bad. They were a joke.
Until they weren’t. 2015 was a radical change of pace, and one that happened a year before it was expected to. The Mets overcame so much adversity and so much negative narrative to challenge for the Commissioner’s Trophy. Alderson’s moves in the offseason, especially the re-signing of Cespedes, all pointed to a continued window of contention.
For all the world, it looks like the team, and perhaps the universe, remembered that these are the Mets.
In a vacuum, 2016 looks like a typical Mets season. The disappointment and controversy, the wasted talent and rocky entry to the big leagues for the blue chip prospect.
It’s so far from that, though.
Indeed, it is a typical Mets season. Yet the fact that the team was earnestly expected to challenge once again for the title makes it so much more bitter. Cespedes was, and is, more than the team’s star. He was the divine signal that a star wanted to be a Met, wanted to bring a title to Queens, wanted to perform for the fans at Citi Field.
What happened instead was a return to the horrifying normalcy that seeped into 2015 for a month before Cespedes drew his sword and vanquished it. Moreover, the first place Nationals are being led by the superstar version of ex-Met Daniel Murphy, who was so integral to the playoff push, with Oliver Perez in tow.
It’s the nightmare scenario. It’s real. It’s predictable.
Cespedes and Cabrera return to the lineup today. For how long is anyone’s guess. Walker is still riding the bench with a back issue that has lingered for days now and supposedly won’t require time on the DL. Believe it when you see it.
It is October 22nd, 2015.
That lone man in the crowd is Sandy Alderson, the architect of this team. He's watching the party go by. pic.twitter.com/uf95ck2LpJ— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) October 22, 2015
The Mets have just defeated the Cubs in the NLCS and punched their tickets to the World Series. Alderson watches his team celebrate at Wrigley Field, thinking to himself that this could be the team that wins it all for the first time since 1986.
It is August 19th, 2016. The Mets are a game below .500. Seth Lugo starts against the Giants in place of an ailing Matz. He is opposed by Johnny Cueto.
The Mets are 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. They are getting Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera back. Once they are finished with the Giants, they will fly to St. Louis to play the Cardinals for three games.
It is August 19th. The Mets might have been slain by the Giants.