By: Brian Mangan
People like teams that win, teams that are home-grown, and teams that exceed expectations. The 2015 Mets are all three, and for that reason, will go down as one of the most beloved Mets teams of all time.
February in New York isn’t easy; especially one as uncharacteristically cold as the one in 2015. In fact, February 2015 was New York’s coldest in eighty years.
Freezing gusts of wind rustled through bare tree branches. New Yorkers walked with their eyes transfixed to the ground, their jackets pulled tight as the cold sliced through scarves and layers of sweaters. Even that typical ever-present New York slush was gone, replaced by defiant-looking mounds of blackened ice.
Baseball? Sure, your brain tells you that baseball will soon be returning to New York, even as you scrape the ice off your windshield an hour before sunrise. But the memory is faded. You might strain to remember the sound of peanut and beer vendors, or the hot summer sun punishing the brim of your cap.
Like Rogers Hornsby, you stare out the window and wait for spring until suddenly, one day, the day arrives: pitchers and catchers have reported. You can’t feel it, but you know that somewhere, thousands of miles away, on the back fields in Port St. Lucie or Jupiter, Florida, players stretch and prepare for a new season. The “wait ‘til next year” is over.
These Mets Are Winning
For Mets fans, there is a memory even more distant, if you are lucky to be old enough to remember: the playoffs. It’s been nine long years since a young David Wright and Jose Reyes celebrated, cigars in hand on the field at Shea Stadium. It’s been nine years since the last time you met with friends or sat down on your couch to watch an actual, bona-fide Mets playoff game.
These Mets are good. They are making the playoffs for only the third time since 1988 (and only the fifth time since 1973). Even better, the Mets won the National League East, a feat accomplished only once since 1988 (they were Wild Cards in 1999 and 2000).
Not only have these Mets been winning, but they have been doing so with style and aplomb, hammering the opposition since the Trade Deadline. The Mets have gone 42-25 since the All Star Break to vault into first place. During that time, team put together one of the hottest streaks in franchise history, going 32-13 over a stretch beginning in late July, the best record over a 45 game stretch since 1999. Their run differential over that period was +96, third best in franchise history.
These Mets Are Home Grown
As an added bonus, this Mets team is made up primarily of players who were drafted, signed, and developed by the Mets organization. Our playoff rotation is likely to be four home-grown (or traded-for and developed) starters in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Their star closer, Jeurys Familia, is home-grown. They have a 100% home-grown infield and right fielder, and the players that are not home-grown are among the most well-liked in Mets history (Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes). Their last cut from the rotation? Home-grown Jon Niese. Their most versatile utility-man? Home-grown Ruben Tejada.
None of the former Mets playoff teams, no matter how beloved, can claim this much Mets heritage. In fact, almost no teams can claim to be this locally-sourced (bring it on, hipsters). The Mets are likely to have 15 players that they drafted or signed on their postseason roster, which would be the 2nd most among all the teams that made the playoffs last season (St. Louis had 16, and the Royals had 14). This figure does not include Sean Gilmartin, Noah Syndergaard, or Travis d’Arnaud, even though they all made their Major League debuts as Mets.
Most Importantly, These Mets Exceeded Expectations
Here we come to the thing that truly separates the 2015 Mets from the 2015 Pirates or the Cardinals of every season. As a sports fan, there is literally nothing that can compare to a season in which your team shatters expectations. The joy of watching that team is unbridled and uncompromised, not shrouded with doubts or fears that they may fall short, or saddled with the feeling that they are simply doing what is expected of them.
Make no mistake: when it comes to the 2015 Mets, there were no realistic expectations that the team would make the playoffs. Sure, there were pockets of optimistic Mets fans who thought that the team might “compete for the Wild Card,” but not even the most optimistic of fans thought that the National League East title was possible. And as for the professionals? As you’ll see in the chart below, zero of ESPN’s experts picked the Mets even to win a Wild Card, while nine selected the Miami Marlins.
And why would anyone think that it was going to be a huge step forward for the Mets? They made no big trades to “go for it” in the offseason; their marquee free agent acquisition was Michael Cuddyer; and, most damningly, they were in the same division as the Washington Nationals, who prognosticators expected could win 100 games.
In a surprise season such as this, every victory is a gift, and every day, week, or month in which your team is in contention feels like a blessing. It’s like an inverse Magic Number – instead of counting down to the playoffs, we can count up the meaningful games in September and beyond. Right now, the Mets have had 25 amazing September games and have at least three more in the National League Division Series.
For that reason, you can’t judge how pleasurable a season is by wins alone. Ask your average Mets fan who their favorite Mets teams are. Of course, you’ll have the World Series winners, like 1969 and 1986, at the top of most lists. But how about of the teams that did not win it all? Many of the most popular seasons in franchise history have been at the beginning of successful periods, when the team first exceeds modest expectations.
There have only been thirteen seasons in franchise history in which the Mets improved by 10 or more wins from the year prior, and only eight of those teams ended the year above .500 (see chart below). There are a number of teams in that group which, although they didn’t win, will be fan favorites for a long time, like the 2005 team with Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran who won only 83 games (+12 wins) or the 1984 team that finished in second place (+22 wins) but ushered in a bright future for the Mets of the 80’s.
Contrast those teams with some of their more-successful but less-adored sequels, like the 2008 Mets or the 1990 Mets, both of whom won 89 games or more but failed to meet the expectations that had been heaped upon them. Even the 1988 team, which won 100 games, or the 2000 team, which won 94 games, were in essence “doing what they were supposed to do.”
Even within this season, the Mets race to the playoffs has been a complete and utter surprise. They were underdogs for the vast majority of the season. Even when the Mets jumped out to a quick start at 15-5, prognosticators and projection systems did not believe.
The Mets had only a 15.1% chance of making the playoffs on July 30th – the night before Wilmer Flores’s walk-off home run against the Nationals. Among playoff teams, only the Texas Rangers had lower odds than that at any point this year.
Winning. Fun. Home-grown. Surprising. It is the confluence of all of these factors that has made this Mets team one of the most enjoyable installments of the franchise all-time. So for the last week, before the stress of the playoffs begins, soak it in. We have been treated to quite a year, one that Mets fans will be talking about for a long time.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney and life-long Mets fan who lives in New York City. Follow him on twitter @brianpmangan.
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