I’ll be honest: I didn’t think the Mets would make it to the postseason this year. The breadth of injuries, that terrible hitting slump (even more terrible with RISP) mid-season; I thought it was over. So when the Mets definitively clinched their spot in the Wild Card game over the weekend, it still felt a bit like a pleasant surprise. Then the tension set in. The single-night elimination is arguably the highest pressure event in baseball–a World Series Game 7 being the height of drama–and now all we can do is wait and see whether the Mets will be hit or miss in this fire sale of a game. For a team that’s had a streaky season and more than its share of wear and tear, the results seem more of a toss-up than ever. But I’ve got a few reasons for us to be optimistic.
First, there’s my grandmother—patient zero of rabid fandom in the house, champion of Ty Kelly and “her little Nimmo”—has not doubted her Mets for a moment, and there’s no indication her faith has wavered today. For tonight’s game, she says, she’s ready. “I got my hat on, my shirt, on my clean underwear on—everything. I’m so excited.” Look out, San Francisco. The underpants are coming for you.
Then there’s this theory I’ve got: the Mets tend to perform better against strong teams than they do in the games that should be easy wins. “Theory” is really a strong word, because the idea was based less on fact than that feeling of dread I get whenever the Mets come up against, say, the Braves. At first I thought it was just leftover panic from a 90s childhood, in which Atlanta dominated the NL East with 11 consecutive division titles from 1995-2000. But when I went to check, the stats justified my fears—the Braves ended the season in last place in the NL East going 68-93, but the Mets were still 4-8 in their matchups. The Mets also fared badly against the stragglers of the NL West, going 3-4 against the last-place Padres, and 1-5 against the Diamondbacks. (The Reds, last place in NL Central, are the exception to this trend—the Mets swept them in both their pre- and post-Jay Bruce series.)
Meanwhile, the Mets have performed extremely well against the NL frontrunner; they’re 5-2 versus the Cubs for the season, having racked up their highest score of 2016 in the 14-3 series finale win on July 3. And, of course, there’s last year.
Cubs in four. There’ll be some close games and the Mets could easily push it further, but I think the Cubs are a Whole Lot better a team.
— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) October 16, 2015
The Mets’ played their second highest-scoring game against the Giants, with Matz bringing home the 13-1 win on April 29; the team also broke a club record for most runs scored in a single inning–12 in the third–that night. While Bumgarner and the Giants’ even-year luck are fair causes for concern, the Mets were 4-3 against the Giants for the season.
Looking ahead, the Mets’ performance against the Nationals and Dodgers is slightly more mixed: they’re 6-10 against Washington and 3-4 against LA, but there are some bright spots in those numbers. Three of the Mets’ losses to the Nationals belonged to what turned out to be a very broken Harvey. Then, there is the sore buttocks of slugger Daniel Murphy. While the Mets have a closer record with the Dodgers, the Nationals have struggled whenever they face LA: Washington is 1-5 versus the Dodgers in 2016. All this to say, the Mets generally do well against the teams they will meet tomorrow and (crossing all crossable parts) on into the postseason. Perhaps they are more vigilant or adrenaline-pumped when they’re up against top-tier teams. Maybe they, too, are still filled with crippling ghost dread whenever they see the word “Braves.” Whatever the reason, it’s certainly been a theme this season, one that I hope continues.
Finally, the Mets have performed well as Wild Cards past. The Kings of Queens have twice been Wild Card picks under the previous system, and have advanced into the playoffs both times. In 1999, in a race against the Cubs and the Giants, the Mets had a rough September, leaving them tied with Cincinnati for the Wild Card spot. At the tiebreaking game, away from home, they shut out the Reds (courtesy Al Leiter and an impressive performance at the plate by Ricky Henderson) five-to-none, and advanced to the NLDS and eventually on to the NLCS, where the blasted Braves were waiting for them.
In 2000, the Mets were again the Wild Card, taking on the Giants in the NLDS. They won the series 3-1, and pressed on to meet the Yankees in the World Series …
… where we all know what happened next. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, I too will put on my Mets paraphernalia and yell at my laptop screen tonight, and we’ll go from there. Meanwhile, I’ll take that 2000 victory over the Giants as a good omen. And speaking of that Subway Series, this year the Mets surpassed the Yankees in local TV ratings for the first time ever, boasting an average of 20% more viewers. That’s a big “W” in my book.
Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports