There are 115 games of baseball straight ahead. Tell us that on a windy, wintry Wednesday afternoon and we'd sign up for them, right? If we were told that more than a thousand innings of baseball lie right in front of us, starting tonight and going on for five months and change, we wouldn't ask questions. We'd take 'em. We'd bring a suitcase to carry 'em all home.
And we should do that as May ends, too. We should enjoy every pitch, starting with the first one Frank Castillo throws in Miami Thursday night. It's baseball. Better yet, it's Mets baseball.
I'm laying out the obvious here because no matter what happens this weekend, there will still be a thousand innings left. A thousand innings of our favorite thing in the world. A thousand innings of balls and strikes and runs and hits and errors and irritation and jubilation and wins and losses. It won't be all good, but it's, you know, all good.
But as certain as the schedule is, as sure as we can be that there will be, give or take for rain and extras, a thousand innings remaining, we can be pretty certain about something else:
If the Mets play in Florida like they played in Atlanta, the competitive portion of the season is probably over.
This isn't talk-radio panic. It's not panic at all. It's just a tentative conclusion based on observation, 47 games' worth of evidence and, most importantly, the 115 games that remain. Particularly the first four.
Getting swept by the Braves was the wrong thing to do at this juncture. No need to recite all the historical antecedents that you and I can recite backward and forward. We've seen this act before and we've seen the spike it can drive into the heart of a season. What makes it different in 2005 is the Braves can't disappear us by themselves. That's where this weekend comes in.
We're five back of the Marlins and about to play them four times. Treat Aquatic Mammal Stadium as if it's Turner Field and that's the ballgame. That's nine out with 111 to play. Then it's over before it really started. No kidding. I don't think we recover if we don't get it together ASAP. Yeah, there's always the Wild Card and nobody who figures to fight for it figures to run away with it, but if we're 23-28 by Sunday night, what right will we have to expect the turnaround of what would have to be fairly epic proportions to keep us in something resembling a race?
What a shame it would be to reach that nadir so soon. Paid advertising aside, the New Mets seemed really promising for most of April. Opening Day (the home version) and Pedro's Shea debut were so much fun given that they promised so much more to come. The hunger in the air was palpable because those crowds, those sellout crowds, could taste the possibilities. Who would have dreamed that the season may have peaked then and there?
The quality of our play is enough of a cause for concern. Beyond that, the schedule has a little party up its sleeve for us. Look around, partner, because it's gonna go down where you stand. We have struggled (and thus far failed) to maintain mediocrity without facing a single game west of Addison Street. There are three trips pending that carry the Mets into Pacific Daylight and Mountain Standard: OAK-SEA in June; SD-LA in August; ARZ-SF slightly thereafter. The American League entrants are awful but they are awful far away, too. Long distance has always been enough of an excuse to scramble the Mets' equilibrium. The N.L. West teams are all sorting themselves out but none appears to be cake.
That's nineteen dates due to cause us trouble. Toss in a week of COL-HOU, both weak sisters, but both on the road. Now it's 26 games that are lurking in the wilds of the west. Oh, and four in St. Louis in September when it may not matter anymore. That's 30 geographically unfriendly stops in our future.
There's no rule saying the Mets have to go, say, 10-20 out in the great wide open. But would you bet on much better having seen how this team plays away from Shea and knowing what they do as a rule when they travel that far? Without looking up everybody's docket, I know Atlanta has already been to San Diego. Washington has played in San Francisco. Florida's seen Chavez Ravine. Our divisional rivals have already had to take at least a little bite out of their western obligations. We haven't. That's what worries me.
That and the continually erratic starting, unpredictable relieving, airloose defense and that old chestnut, lack of hitting. Bet we didn't realize just how well Carlos Beltran was doing when he was quietly — with one quad not quite right — doing it. The lineup, especially with Cameron batting third, suddenly looks like something out of a year ago. It's no coincidence that we're 0-4 since Beltran last started. (It is probably a coincidence that we're 0-3 since Mike went gooey for Rush Limbaugh, but no good can possibly come of that, either.)
We're not riding high into South Florida. Carlos isn't back. David isn't looking balls into his glove, at least not all of them. Jose keeps finding new ways to ground into double plays. Cliff and Mike come to the plate with bags over their heads. Marlon Anderson is playing way too much. The Marlins are flawed, but this isn't the best time to try to reel them in.
So if the numbers begin to conspire against us, is there anything to look forward to? Sure, there's Mets baseball, a thousand innings of it. Carlos will be back. David will keep getting better. Jose will find his holes. Cliff and Mike won't be done forever. Marlon can stick to pinch-hitting. The Mets will have their good days. They have a lot of games left at home where they can play with anyone.
In December, that would sound great. Nearing June, I don't know if that's enough to sate us. But it might have to.