As they began play on July 16 following the All-Star break, the Mets — who had persevered through a brutal rash of injuries in the first half of the season — were 47-40 and held a 3.5 game lead (4.0 in the loss column) over the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the NL East.
New York’s lead over the Atlanta Braves was 4.0 games (5.0 in the loss column).
Fast forward roughly one month and the mets — who have gone 12-19 in the second half — are in third place at 59-59, trailing the first-place Braves by 3.5 games (3.0 in the loss column) and second-place Phillies by 2.0 games.
So, how did the mets get here?
If the answer to the above question was simple, the way in which they’ve collapsed would not have been so painful for the fan base. And it wouldn’t have been so shocking.
But as the mets have lost feebly to both also-rans and contenders as their tailspin has intensified, it’s impossible to point a finger at just one thing. And it’s also impossible to ignore the factors that have been out of their control.
Was this mets team ever actually good?
The mets’ offense has remained anemic even after the return of most of their key cogs, and their ineptitude when it comes to even making productive outs with runners in scoring position has been stunningly bad. Lately, the main issues have been their approach in fastball counts and their inability to hit those fastballs.
But even with their offensive shortcomings, the mets of the first half had one of the best defensive teams in baseball (and still do now), had a lockdown starting rotation, had a bullpen that was largely very good, and had a knack for pulling out close games.
It is the above that led to them being where they were at the All-Star break. So, yes, they were good. Not good enough to have been expected to pull away in the division — not with the amount of injuries they had to deal with and the offensive struggles they still haven’t shaken — but certainly good enough to think they would be able to hold on in the division if the offense came around.
How much have the injuries hurt?
The mets have been the hardest-hit team in the majors this season when it comes to injuries to key players, and it can be argued that they would have pulled away in the first half had they not had so many players go down.
In the second half, the problem for the mets hasn’t been the amount of injuries (though there have been lots), but rather the players who have gone down.
The loss of Jacob deGrom for the entire second half so far, and potentially the remainder of the season, has obviously been the biggest blow. Their starting rotation, which helped key their first half success, has been a shell of itself without deGrom anchoring it and providing dominance every fifth day.
The loss of Francisco Lindor for most of the second half to this point has been enormous, as Lindor — who was playing a Gold Glove shortstop and was one of the mets’ team leaders — had started to resemble the offensive player he was in Cleveland in the month and change before his injury.
Additionally, setbacks to Carlos Carrasco (who debuted without being stretched out and is now struggling) and Noah Syndergaard (who is still out and might return as a reliever) have been devastating with David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi also out.
How much has the schedule hurt?
Let’s first be clear that the mets have no one to blame but themselves for the way they have played in the second half, especially when it comes to their offensive futility. But to ignore the schedule would be to ignore a key factor.
By playing 10 doubleheaders in the first half of the season, the mets became the first team since the 1978 Toronto Blue Jays to play at least 10 doubleheaders before the All-Star break. And with it being difficult to sweep doubleheaders, the mets split most of those.
It stands to reason that the mets of the first half would’ve notched at least a few more wins if not for all the doubleheaders.
When it comes to quality of opponent, with the mets’ current 13-game stretch against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, New York became the first team since the 1980 Blue Jays to play 13 straight games against teams with a .600 winning percentage or better at least 100 games into a season.
Meanwhile, as the mets’ schedule has become insanely difficult, the Braves are in the midst of the cupcake portion of their schedule while the Phillies have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in baseball.
Should Luis Rojas take lots of the blame?
As I wrote on Aug. 9, it’s understandable for fans to want a manager to lose his mind in front of the media when a team isn’t playing well, but it’s hard to believe Rojas going ballistic during a media session would help his players hit.
That doesn’t mean that listening to Rojas and the players preach patience and stay even keeled while the mets continue to sink makes for good optics. That includes Pete Alonso saying the mets have “got this.”
But the mets are not failing because of a lack of motivation. They’re not losing games because their manager is staying calm. They’re losing games mainly because players who are too good to be this bad are not executing at the plate, and because when they do execute, their starting pitching or bullpen deserts them.
The job of a manager is much more than what goes on between the lines. And while it’s fair for fans to be furious at what’s happening right now between the lines, Rojas’ value goes far beyond that. And he should not pay for this collapse with his job.
Is the anemic offense on the players or the plan?
There’s clearly something wrong when a team fires its hitting coach during a season and the new hitting coach winds up overseeing the same kind of ineptitude.
And the overall plan comes from the front office.
But as Zack Scott and Rojas noted earlier this month, so much of the mets’ offensive struggles have to do with their approach in hitter’s counts and their inability to square up fastballs in the zone. That is not something that can be blamed on a hitting coach or on the philosophy that is being preached from above.
It’s also impossible to believe at this point that at least some of the mets’ hitting woes aren’t mental.
What happens after the season?
While Rojas’ job shouldn’t be in jeopardy, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be. That will be up to his bosses.
And with Steve Cohen reportedly still interested in hiring a big-name head of baseball operations, it’s fair to wonder about the future of Sandy Alderson. It should also be noted that Scott is still working under an “acting GM” tag.
As far as the makeup of the team goes, the mets have a number of key players — including Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Michael Conforto — who can leave as free agents after the season and who are candidates to receive the qualifying offer.
And if this offensive malaise continues, it’s easy to envision the mets potentially shaking up the current group up with one or two big trades.
Then there’s of course the elephant in the room, which is the health of deGrom, which could shape how the mets look and much of what they do heading into the 2022 season.
Some of it has been randomness and some of it has been bad luck. Some if it has been due to injuries and some of it has been the result of a regression by the starting rotation. But most of it has been an inability to score runs.
Add in the mets’ aforementioned recent no-shows in huge series against the Marlins and Phillies, and it’s clear that something is missing and that some big changes could be in store if the mets don’t quickly find it.