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Same Time, This Year

Losing by the same score as a forfeit is just too on-the-nose as Met-aphors go, but there’s no compelling reason to leave room for interpretation after a 2018 Mets loss so dismal [1] it would have fit snugly inside the disaster known as 2017.

Ah, remember 2017? Probably and probably not, I’d reckon. Sure, it was only a year ago, and you can’t have possibly forgotten how for six months we’d seemingly only lose and wallow in the mire. Yet the way this season has crumbled has likely overshadowed just what a disappearing act Terry Collins’s final crew pulled. One of the themes I keep revisiting of late is that while, yes, this right now is unquestionably awful, no, it is not unprecedented for awfulness. I don’t need to hark back to 1962 or 1979 or 1993 to make that point. I need merely take only one quick step in reverse.

The differences may appear subtle to the naked eye, but what materially separated the dregs of 2018 from the depths 2017 until Sunday, to my thinking, was something Mickey Callaway continually references. It’s not to his credit, but I honestly see what he’s been getting at. Over and over, when the Mets are doing and scoring nothing, he says they’re really and truly in the games they’re losing. I want to rinse and spit every time he goes there, but he hasn’t been wholly incorrect. Saturday’s 3-0 loss [2], for example, was a lot like many 2018 losses. They weren’t blown out. They stayed close. Hell, they led off with a baserunner in seven different innings en route to being shut out. Had something or other gone right (or not gone wrong), maybe they’d have won (or not lost). Same could have been said on numerous fairly well-pitched, relatively razor’s-edge occasions.

It’s not much to cling to — in my harsher moods, I’d call it loser talk — but I can understand why a neophyte manager who has watched his team fall short over and over might want to grab for the slightest of twigs on the slimmest of branches. Callaway’s job is to figure out how to turn those agonizing losses into wins. They’re so close he can taste victory. It’s gotta be killing him that he can’t get them across the line.

Sunday afternoon at Citi Field obliterated the vague sense the Mets were missing just a little something here or there. Sunday afternoon at Citi Field they missed everything by a mile. Most damningly, Sunday afternoon at Citi Field could have been most any Sunday afternoon at Citi Field in 2017, the year when the Mets practically never won a Sunday afternoon home game and were habitually steamrolled Monday through Saturday wherever they played.

The Sunday business [3] last year could be chalked up as anecdotal or coincidental, but what was consistent among all days of the week in 2017 was the Mets landing on the wrong side of lopsided scores. There was always an 11-4 bashing waiting around the corner, with a 12-5 mashing lurking in the shadows behind it, and a 14-3 trashing waiting in the wings. How apropos that 2017 ended with an 11-0 beatdown.

Twenty Eighteen seemed to pick up in earnest where 2017 left off on Sunday, as the Rays stomped the Mets, 9-0, a no-contest marked mostly by Nathan Eovaldi carrying a perfect game into the seventh, but also noteworthy for Tampa Bay facing the minimum number of New York batters until the ninth. Throw in mediocre outfield play by each of its components and an ill-advised start by 2017 desperation days alumnus Chris Flexen [4] (three innings, five runs, ERA up to 12.79), and whatever edge in style points this year had versus last year fully dissipated. Not that 2018 was exactly being heroic by comparison otherwise. As putrid as 2017 was, the Mets briefly hinted at competence as the first half slogged into the second. They won sixteen of twenty-six between June 25 and July 25, keeping lit the faintest ember of hope for anybody who figured if they could rise from the doldrums in 2015 and 2016, maybe the third time could be a charm, too.

Illusions of contention never gained a ton of traction, but the 2017 Mets did hover within four games of .500 with a little more than a third of the season remaining. They weren’t fooling anybody, but — and here’s something I wasn’t planning on saying in the present — they weren’t this bad. They would get this bad and perhaps worse in August and September, but they kept one fingernail on respectability’s outer edge for longer than it seemed they were capable of doing.

These 2018 Mets haven’t done anything remotely as impressive since May became June. These 2018 Mets haven’t been four games from .500 since June 5. Not that being four games below .500 should be a goal for any professionally owned, operated and managed big league baseball team, but this edition has plummeted faster and farther than its immediate predecessor. I didn’t think being better than the 2017 Mets was something that was going to be aspirational, but, as of now, the 2018 Mets are four games worse than the 2017 Mets were at the same point in the schedule. The 2017 Mets ebbed to 39-47 after 86 games; the 2018 Mets have sunk to 35-51. It’s not even our first time sixteen games under this year, whereas last year’s Mets needed 124 games to flail that far from break-even.

The only thing the 2018 Mets have going for them in this mythical battle versus their former selves is the 2017 team would eventually roll downhill as if shoved by an avalanche. They were 53-62 on August 13 — certifiably lousy, but garden-variety crummy, all things considered — yet finished 70-92. That’s a 17-30 tumble into the abyss. There went Collins. There went coaches. There went a season to its deep, dark, deserving resting place. Hardly anybody was healthy, hardly anybody was hitting, hardly anybody was watching. When it finally ended, we all said roughly the same thing: thank goodness that’s over.

Little did we know what the sequel held in store.