Perhaps that’s what will kill their fans most. Then again, Mets fans have never needed much prodding to tell the world how miserable it is to be a Mets fan. They’ll certainly have the ammo now.
Baseball post-mortems are always the worst. The NBA offseason has eclipsed the Hot Stove for drama and excitement, but that doesn’t keep the latter from percolating pretty heavily in the winter months, to remind us all there is warmth coming when winter has us at our lowest and most despondent. At least it did before the owners were colluding on salaries and good players have to wait until spring training begins to get signed at times now. Which means the discussion of what should be done in baseball’s offseason gets passionate and heated and often illogical.
Especially for those teams that lose in the playoffs, and it’ll be more so for those who lost in a simple three-game series. Teams lose three-game series all the time. It’ll be excessively worse for the Mets, who finished with the same record as the Braves at 101 wins, and lost what still amounts to a coinflip (two of them if you count the tiebreaker that cost them the division). If you’d asked the Mets front office in a blind test if they’d take 101 wins before the season and see if that was enough to win the NL East, they likely would have rushed to the exit with your offer.
Losing two of three does not provide any answers on what the team was missing. The Mets did not lose in the Wild-Card round because they didn’t make the big trade at the deadline. Willson Contreras maybe wins one more game for them in the last two months of the season, but again, 101 wins is a total everyone would find satisfactory. You cannot build a team to win in October specifically, no matter what you do in the regular season. The Dodgers, with the most money and the best front office, have only ever managed the whole thing in a season that will never be repeated (we hope). The Astros have also only successfully managed the whole thing once. You can’t build teams better than this.
You build a team for the 162, and maybe you can build in some flexible parts that can bend to the uniqueness of the MLB postseason — relievers that can stretch to six outs, starters that can wheel back from the pen quickly if need be, a manager who knows how the game changes. But even that might be enough. A team like the 2015 Royals that didn’t hit a lot of homers over six months suddenly hits a lot of them over three weeks. A Braves bullpen last year that was only fine to good in the regular season suddenly finds three guys who turn into the lovechild of Satchel Paige and Loki for less than a month. There’s no planning for that, and there’s no taking credit for that as something a GM knew would happen all the time. They can only put the pieces in place, or even just near the place, and hope that it works out. The whole thing is a multi-billion dollar game of electric football, where most of the vibrations cause movements that don’t make any sense.
Sure, the Mets needed to hit for more power during the season. They still scored the sixth-most runs in baseball. They hit two less homers than the Padres in these three games, and you can decide if that matters or not. It probably matters more that Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, pitchers who were mostly excellent during the season, weren’t very good the past three days. Does that mean next October the Mets should sideline them both? A year from now they might both throw three shutouts each on the way to bringing a parade to Queens, and nothing around them will have changed.
That won’t satisfy the baying hordes, and there’s no one who bays louder than a New York fanbase that didn’t get what it feels like it was entitled to (though in the case of the Mets, and really the Jets, their inferiority complex is more satiated in failure). They, and those who speak for them, will pore over every detail to see where such a team could fall so short of where it could have gone. Surely there must be an explanation.
There isn’t. Those of us who grew up with a more fair playoff system (four division winners, that’s it) lament how random it all seems now. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that MLB doesn’t have playoffs so much as a “split,” where now 18 teams are culled and the remaining 12 play a game with different standards and rules and everything basically starts over. What came before matters so little.
Perhaps if MLB were to step-ladder this round, so that the sixth seed would play the 5th seed and the winner playing the fourth seed before the Division Series begins. That would provide an award for all division winners, because if we’re going to have divisions it should mean something to win them. It would also protect a team like the Mets, clearly better than the other two wild-card teams, who would get something of an advantage. But players will bitch about a week break (even though they’re getting one now anyway), and it’ll never come to pass.
It’s just the nature of baseball now. You play the 162, and then it gets wiped clean, and 12 teams participate in a tournament that you can’t really build a team for. Sometimes you win, mostly you lose, and none of it really means anything.
Which, of course, is more frustrating. Which is why our winter will be soundtracked by the unmistakable caterwauling of some dude in a Doc Gooden jersey, almost assuredly with mustard on it.