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Ten Over, Three Under, Same Season

How historic is the ongoing fall from grace the Mets will seek to halt this evening versus the Orioles (at 17-41, as ideal an opponent for that sort of task as one could request at this moment)? Consider that the 2018 Mets were ten games above .500 fourteen games into their season, wielding a menacing 12-2 record and lording it over the National League East. Now consider they are 27-30 and are not only ensconced in fourth place in their division but saddled with the fourth-worst mark in the National League.

It’s not out of the question that somewhere in Maryland, an Orioles blogger is delighted that the Birds have a chance to get well or at least a little better in New York tonight. The Mets haven’t been making anybody — besides the then-faltering Diamondbacks a couple of weeks ago — look bad by comparison to themselves since the middle of April. We know they’ve steadily explored the tubes via downward trajectory for a while, but just how far have they plunged?

Far enough to evoke some unflattering precedents. Only twice before in their history have the Mets soared to at least ten games over .500 only to dip to at least three games under .500 later that same season.

In 1991, a ten-game winning streak propelled Buddy Harrelson’s Mets toward the kind of dizzying heights to which we’d become accustomed: a place in the pennant race, a victory total whose baseline was the high eighties, general adoration…then the bottom fell out. The Mets went from a peak of 53-38 on July 21, to their last glimpse of Ten Over at 55-45 on July 31, to Three Under — 57-60 — on August 18. That’s the franchise air speed record for a freefall of the nature our current Mets are going through. Losing 15 of 17 to travel 13 games south will get you there in no time at all.

A longer journey downward occurred nineteen years later. In 2010, the Mets were as many as eleven games over .500 at one point (43-32 on June 27) and still Ten Over as of July 6, when they were 47-37. It was hard to imagine while they were confounding expectations that Jerry Manuel’s band of merry Mets would plummet so decisively in the not too distant future. But plummet they did, though it took a good longer than it taken in ’91. Come September 3, the 2010 Mets were a 66-69 outfit, the result of going 19-32 in their previous 51 games.

The stretch we are in at present, during which we’ve ridden the absolutely wrong escalator, has run somewhere between the warp speed of 1991 and the stately descent of 2010. Our 2018 Mets are 15-28 in their past 43 contests. More 2010 than 1991, but mostly not good no matter how you count it.

Neither of the Ten Over/Three Under 2018 predecessors, incidentally, continued to fall through the earth’s surface at quite so an alarming rate. The 1991 Mets finished their year at a sad 77-84, which is to say that once they reached Three Under for the first time, they didn’t stray altogether far from respectability the rest of the way, going 20-24 in their final 44. The 2010 Mets were even better at not being even worse. In their last 27 games, they went 13-14, settling in the books at 79-83.

And then everything was fine…right? Well, no. 1991 begat 1992 and 1993 and, eventually, six consecutive losing seasons clear through 1996. 2010 paved the route for 2011-2014, four more years when .500 was aspirational and ultimately out of reach. Not that the future is told in our worst moments, but let’s just say you don’t want to fall from Ten Over to Three Under in the space of one season if you can help it.

I guess if the Mets could help it, they wouldn’t do it.

There’ve been a couple of other similar if not exact in-season plops from well over to uncomfortably under. The 1971 Mets were a powerhouse for a while: on June 30, they crested at 45-29, a bulging sixteen games over .500. Then summer really kicked in and kicked our asses. By August 15, we were 58-60; 13-31, under Gil Hodges, no less. Not Three Under, but perilously close enough. The ’71 Mets rallied to end their year 83-79 and return to the brand of mediocrity that defined most of their post-1969 existence.

Five years later, the 1976 Mets raced out to an 18-9 start — one shy of Ten Over on May 8. Joe Frazier was Mickey Callaway without the initial rush of New Age savoir faire about him. Then he was simply Joe Frazier (which Mickey Callaway has been himself a little too much recently). In a blink, the Mets of ’76 were Three Under, hitting 24-27 on June 3 after losing 18 of 24 following their impressive if illusory start. There’d be a long, futile .500 slog that would land them at 52-55 on August 2, then an insane surge that lifted them to 86-71 on September 28, before an 0-5 coda warned us to not get carried away by their final mark of 86-76. It was their best won-lost total since ’69, yet seven horrific seasons awaited on deck.

The fate of the 2018 Mets, let alone the Mets of 2019, 2020 and so on, will be determined by many factors. Logically, none of them figures to involve how previous iterations of Mets handled falls from Ten Over to Three Under. The Mets just activated Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak from the disabled list and just selected Jarred Kelenic and Simeon Woods-Richardson in the first rounds of the amateur draft. None of them or anybody else taking the field tonight or in the decade to come had anything to do with 1971 or 1976 or 1991 or 2010. (Well, Jose Reyes from 2010 remains extant on the 2018 roster, and David Wright from 2010 is signed through 2020, but never mind that for now). Still, statistically similar precedent wouldn’t lurk so close to top of mind if the Mets didn’t seem to be in the process of bottoming out.

Actually, it would be great if that’s what the 2018 Mets were doing at Three Under. Sinking any further below is really asking for trouble.