One glaring thing stands out when reviewing what’s happened with the Mets over the past two seasons. We’ve watched them occupy first place for the majority of 2021 and 2022. Just not at the right time.
In 2021, New York spent a total of 114 days in first place. The final day they were atop the National League East was on August 13th, and they never returned. Obviously, it was a little more painful in 2022. Manager Buck Showalter’s squad spent virtually all season in first place (176 days). They even finished in a tie with the Atlanta Braves, but not having a tiebreaker cost them the division.
When we look at each of these instances on a deeper level, they’re not the same. But on the surface, it doesn’t matter. The general public will still look at the overarching details and conclude that the Mets blew it. Team owner Steve Cohen has done a good job of changing the culture within the organization on many fronts. Having the Mets avoid that late-season/September slide is a narrative that’ll follow this team until they show an ability to slay this metaphorical dragon.
Where Mets’ late-season slides started
You know where this started happening, folks.
After coming within one win of reaching the World Series in 2006, the Mets looked primed to return to the postseason in 2007. On September 12th, they owned an 83-62 record and a seven-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. Overall, New York was in first place for 159 days that season.
They relinquished possession of first place on September 29th and never got it back thanks to going 5-12 down the stretch. That ended up being the collapse of all collapses, but now looking back on it, this was coming from a mile away. After going 34-18 through the first two months, the Mets posted just a 54-56 record over the final four months of the regular season.
The Mets fell one game short of the playoffs again in 2008. Unlike 2007, New York got off to a slow start and had to get hot to even have a shot at the postseason.
Manager Willie Randolph was fired in the most Wilpon way ever after posting a 34-35 record to start the year. Jerry Manuel took over and steered the club to a 55-38 record the rest of the way.
For the second straight year, September was a problem. New York got itself back in contention with an 18-8 July and an 18-11 August. But once the calendar flipped to September, they were essentially a .500 team with a 13-12 record.
Where this didn’t come into play
Now, I know some might be thinking about 2015 and 2016 and how the Mets finished strong. Both seasons included a hot start in April, but they cooled off significantly before turning it on at the right time.
After going 15-8 to begin 2015, manager Terry Collins watched his club tread water with a 38-42 record between May and July. They were 52-50 on July 30th and heading into a pivotal series against the Washington Nationals while being three games back in the division. The Mets swept that series, traded for Yoenis Cespedes, and then got hot over the final two months. They rode that wave all the way to a National League pennant.
There were similarities between 2015 and what happened the following year in 2016. New York was 15-7 in April, followed by four straight months of either finishing below .500, at .500, or one game over.
They looked dead in the water with a 60-62 record on August 19th. But then Asdrubal Cabrera and Cespedes came back from the injured list. That (and other things) enabled New York to go 27-13 down the stretch to capture the first NL Wild Card spot.
In both of these instances, they obviously weren’t the ones getting chased. The Mets did the chasing. There was nothing to lose like in 2007, 2008, 2021, and 2022.
The most recent instances
In 2021, Luis Rojas steered through a ton of injuries and watched his club enter the All-Star break with a 48-40 record. But outside of a 17-9 May, the only other month they finished above .500 was July (14-13). A switch flipped after the midsummer classic, and the second-half tailspin commenced. New York went 29-45 down the stretch, including a 21-37 mark from August 1st through the end of the season.
Looking back on 2022, that drastic collapse didn’t happen. The Mets’ winning percentage in the first half (.624) was nearly identical to the second half (.623). Their 10.5-game lead at the end of May had evaporated, but a soft September schedule should’ve made winning the NL East possible. They went 18-13 over their final 31 games between September and the beginning of October. That was New York’s second-worst month of the season, with only June being worse (13-12 record).
While they didn’t collapse, the Mets’ performance slid back enough to allow the Braves to come in and take the division thanks to their own hot play.
Moving forward for the Mets
Ask any Mets fan about the month of June and they’ll tell you the same thing: it’s usually awful for the Amazins.
New York has mostly tamed those beasts in the last couple of years, though. They went 15-15 in June 2021 and 13-12 in 2022. But the ghost of late-season and September slides keeps following them, regardless of whether they actually collapsed or not.
This narrative will keep following the Mets until they have a late-season lead and simply don’t watch someone else pass them by. Old habits die hard, and this is just another remnant of the Wilpon era that needs to get exorcised as soon as possible.