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More Saddened Than Aggravated

The Mets will play a game today in San Francisco. We will root for them. They might reverse prevailing trends and win. Perhaps the Cardinals will lose, and the Mets will move back to within 4½ games of the second Wild Card. It’s not inconceivable that this sequence of events will repeat itself on Sunday, at which point the Mets will be 3½ out. On Tuesday, the Mets will begin a three-game series in St. Louis. Should they stay hot and sweep all three — depending on what happens between Miami and Pittsburgh this weekend and whoever they play when they get done with each other, the Mets will have climbed into the thick of the playoff race. At that point, the 65-62 Mets will have 35 games remaining, a load of momentum and every reason to believe they can push toward a return date in the postseason.

“Might.” “Not inconceivable.” “Should they stay hot.” “Depending on what happens.” There are a lot of conditions implicit in the above scenario…and based on every available trace of evidence, conditions are not favorable. In real life, the Mets have lost 17 of their past 25 games, including Friday night’s tower of embarrassment [1] to the Giants, 8-1. As platforms for growth go, that’s not gonna get ya six inches off the ground. By way of comparison, the patron saint of It-Ain’t-Over, the 1973 Mets, went 14-11 prior to getting on their fabled 21-of-29 roll. Those Mets were slowly coalescing in an uncommonly forgiving division. These Mets have continually crumbled while looking up at formidable competition.

What I guess I’m saying here is you play the You Gotta Believe card at your own credulous risk. If you’ve abused your internal clock as I have all this week only to watch the Mets sink from dismal to atrocious, you don’t see anything to believe in.

On Friday, Seth Lugo [2] was splendid as the August version of what Logan Verrett [3] was in April, giving the Mets 6⅔ innings of one-run ball. Seth and the Mets were tied in the seventh with Johnny Cueto and the Giants. There had been some clownish baserunning (Lugo’s, mostly) and other disconcerting blackout sketches delivered in the spirit of Love American Style, but the Mets were in this thing. Then they weren’t. Neither was Lugo, removed in a fit of matchup-inspired strategy after 69 effective pitches. It was as if the manager whispered in the rookie’s ear as he dismissed him from the mound, “Don’t worry kid, we’ll find a way to blow this for you.”

And so they did. Every reliever, including newcomer Josh Smoker [4], was culpable, as was everybody who wore a glove solely for decorative purposes, as well as everybody who carried a bat to ward off evil spirits, because they certainly weren’t using them to knock in runs. The best you could say about the Mets after Lugo left was they did indeed start to resemble the team we saw in the World Series last fall.

Jeurys Familia [5] was undermined by shabby infield defense in the eighth and Yoenis Cespedes [6] was mindlessly trapped off base in the ninth.

It was just brutal, or of a piece with how they’ve performed almost without interruption since July 26, the first time they played the Cardinals in 2016. They weren’t doing so hot prior to then either, but they were at least sort of holding their own, allowing a person to squint and discern the vague outlines of a contender that might get its act together sooner or later. Later has arrived. The Mets aren’t here to meet its plane.

In other summers when the air has leaked out of a season’s inner tube, I’ve been disgusted. Disgusted was the soup of the day for a half-dozen years before last year. But then came last year, and last year wiped the slate clean in my soul. I no longer know how to stay mad at the Mets. When they’re bad, they’re bad, and brother, they’ve been bad more than they haven’t been the bulk of 2016. I recognize situational bad. These situations suck. Yet the bit where we pile on this organization for knowing nothing and doing nothing and winning nothing?

I can’t do that at this juncture of the franchise’s timeline. They won a pennant within the last year. If it doesn’t quite rate them a pass as they descend down the drain pipe, it should earn them a bye out of the tournament in which we reflexively rank the worst, most godawful Met episodes, calamities and aggregations we’ve ever experienced. C’mon, I think when I serve as blogger-confessor for my fellow fans’ struggles with their faith (which happens a lot lately), this isn’t good, but lord, we’ve seen worse. I have links to six seasons of genuine disgust if your memory is too short to box with mine.

I’m not aggravated as much as I’m saddened. I’m saddened that the great year of 2015 will not be immediately twinned with a worthy successor. Of all the things 2015 was, it was fun. I literally wrote the book on the 2015 Mets [7], and I don’t think I fully grasped how much fun we were having while we were having it. It keeps coming back to me. In the “one year ago on this date” derby, we’re racing toward the really phenomenal stuff. The Mets go to Colorado and outscore the Rockies 28-18 over two nights, or by exactly as many as the Diamondbacks just outscored the Mets over three. The Mets go to Philadelphia and whack eight homers on a Monday, do infield acrobatics on a Thursday and sweep both games in between besides. The Mets gear up for September like September matters. September mattered. October mattered. A wee bit of November mattered.

Matters at the end of third week of this August aren’t inspiring. Some injured return. Other injured recede. Health seems irrelevant. Moves are made. Few of them click. Schedules are cited as favorable. Losses mount anyway. 2015 fails to replicate. 2016 fails to ignite. 2017…nah, too soon, if only in the chronological sense.

If Billy Loes [8] were still with us, he might glance at the standings and conclude [9], “The second Wild Card is a very good thing. It gives everybody a chance. Just like the WPA.” The 60-62 Mets are 5½ behind the presently Wild Cardinals with 40 to play. They’re closer to the 59-63 Rockies and the 57-66 Phillies than they are to 65-56 St. Loo, though. If we weren’t laser-focused on their status and clinging to an iota of that ’15 feeling, there is little likelihood we’d view the Mets as any kind of contender. If I were an impartial newspaper editor pressed for space, I’d delete the New York line from the National League Playoff Picture box without a second thought.

I’m a highly partisan fan and my virtual X-Acto knife has already pretty much made the cut in my mind. But I’ll watch the next game anyway (of course) and I’ll even allow myself a purposeful peek at the out-of-town scoreboard. Even if you’re certain you already know, you never know.

***

Apropos of Justin Ruggiano [10]’s grand slam Thursday night and my assertion [11] that you have no business losing when one of your batters does the most he can do with an at-bat, I got curious and combed Baseball Reference to determine whether the Mets have ever benefited from such a turn of fortune. Have they ever come out ahead despite the other team hitting a grand salami? They have! Whereas the Mets have dropped thirteen games in which one of their hitters has brought home the Hebrew National [12], they’ve actually won twenty games in which one of their opponents’ hitters notched four runs on one extraordinary swing. Who knew things sometimes break in the Mets’ favor? It’s a helluva list, too, and I’ll share it with you somewhere down the road when I haven’t spent an entire week awake at hours decent people and frontrunners are sound asleep.