As we sit here the day after the San Diego Padres eliminated them in the Wild Card Series, though, none of that matters. All anybody can think about are the what-ifs.
What if Starling Marte didn’t miss the final month of the regular season with a fractured finger? What if the Mets won just one (1!) game in Atlanta during the second-to-last series? And what if the front office made more wholesale changes at the trade deadline to support this club for the stretch run?
We could go on, but you get the picture. Five months of great play were completely erased by what’s happened the last two weekends. It only hurts even more that no MLB team has been in first place longer than the Mets over the past two seasons. In true Mets fashion, they’ve failed to win a division title in either of those campaigns.
When it comes to the 2022 squad, there were two specific strengths of this roster: the starting rotation and the offense. Unfortunately, those two perceived strengths are exactly the reasons why they’re not headed to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in the NLDS on Tuesday. It’s also why they had to play in the Wild Card Series in the first place.
It’s felt like the same story since the Mets reached the 2015 World Series. This team has been built on starting pitching, and they’d ultimately make it as far as the rotation could carry them. As we can see, New York hasn’t been carried very far since winning the National League pennant seven years ago.
Those vibes didn’t change in 2022. Paying Max Scherzer $43.3 million per year to pair him with Jacob deGrom was supposed to be New York’s edge over everyone. After all, no starting pitcher has accrued more fWAR since 2018 than Scherzer and deGrom.
And when you add Chris Bassitt into the mix, this looked to be a fearsome three-headed monster that’d give any team trouble, especially in a short series. That wasn’t the case.
Even with deGrom sidelined until August, the Mets’ rotation finished 2022 with 15.9 fWAR and a 3.61 ERA. Both of those numbers ranked fifth-best in baseball. But when it came down to crunch time, they were mostly absent.
In that final regular-season matchup with the Braves, deGrom, Scherzer, and Bassitt combined to allow 11 runs in 14.1 innings. Although deGrom was back to normal in Game 2 vs. the Padres, New York’s top three starters compiled a 7.36 ERA in the Wild Card Series.
Seeing the Mets not get that first-round bye was disappointing, but at least they had the kind of pitching that should make it easier to advance, right? Wrong. The Padres were the ones with the better rotation, which was led by Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.
This staff mostly pitched well throughout the duration of the regular season. It was tough to watch them not live up to expectations against the Braves, but they’re human and it happens. Nobody expected only one of them to show up and perform in the playoffs, though.
They’re still human, but that’s the definition of brutal.
We know the biggest knock on the Mets’ 2022 offense was a lack of overall power. Both Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso were the biggest parts of manager Buck Showalter’s lineup, but it’s Alonso who is the Mets’ lone premier power threat.
After all, he’s the only hitter in Mets history with multiple seasons of 40-plus homers. His three seasons of 30-plus dingers are bested by only Mike Piazza, who did it four times.
The Mets’ 116 team wRC+ was baseball’s third-best mark, while their 772 runs scored was tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the fifth-best. It was New York’s inconsistency that was the problem.
They were held to two or fewer runs 48 times in 2022. Nearly 40% of those occasions (19 out of 48) came in August and September. We’d get teased on a game-by-game basis, too, and the Wild Card Series served as the perfect example.
In Game 1, the offense looked dead and scored only one run after things were already out of reach. Then, they busted out on Saturday for seven runs. It included homers from Lindor and Alonso, but also big hits with runners on base, which we’ve seen all year (outside of September). And then on Sunday with the season on the line, they could only muster one hit.
This is not to discredit San Diego’s pitching. They came to play and gave Mets hitters fits. However, this was a story we’ve seen way too often over the last bit of the season. We’ve seen teams that don’t slug lots of home runs win in the past (hello, 2015 Kansas City Royals), but consistency is key. The Mets lost that down the stretch.
Runs are at a premium in the postseason because elite pitching is on display. Hitting home runs isn’t everything, but it’s helpful to have a lineup that can take a big swing and land a punch in that manner.
You know, like the Padres did in this series, and more specifically, in Game 1.
When the Mets built their roster last winter, the goal was to win right now. They entered 2022 with an average age of 30.68 years old, which was the highest in baseball. Now with a premature exit in the postseason, there are tons of important roster questions ahead of general manager Billy Eppler and the front office.
The lineup could use some more thump. Where are they going to get that from? Among the five pitchers that finished the year in New York’s rotation (deGrom, Scherzer, Bassitt, Walker, Carrasco), the only one guaranteed to come back in 2023 is Scherzer. The rest either have a club option or a player option.
When team owner Steve Cohen first took over the Mets, he initially said he’d be slightly disappointed if the Amazins weren’t champions within 3-5 years. That statement was made in November 2020.
We’re now two seasons in with Cohen at the helm, and the Mets have come up empty. They’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still lots of work to be done. From what we’ve seen with this new regime, what just transpired won’t be good enough. They’ll be active this winter in hopes of taking another step forward in 2023.
At this point, that’s about all Mets fans can be sure of heading into what’s going to be an interesting offseason.