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Playing the Percentages

Such a messy game for such a tidy milestone, but given that the biggest mess of runs landed decisively on the Mets’ side of the box score, of course we’ll accept it without complaint. We do so little without complaint these days. What Mets fan could possibly complain about a 12-6 Mets romp over the Pirates [1]?

The Wilpons still own the team, so that might get you airing your grievances [2], which is your prerogative, but I didn’t become a Mets fan to root for or against the owners. I rooted for the Mets to win as soon as I got to know them in 1969 and I still do in 2018. Thursday night in Pittsburgh, I rooted for…

• Steven Matz [3] to shake off some early difficulties…which he did, going six innings that got better as they got later, culminating in a surprisingly reassuring four-run outing garnished by nine strikeouts, including six of the called variety;

• Asdrubal Cabrera [4] to deliver a powerful potential swan song as the trade deadline nears…which he did, via two runs, three hits, four ribbies and a homer that climbed higher than the 21-foot wall that graces right field at PNC Park;

• Amed Rosario [5] to continue to sizzle…which he did with two more hits, bringing his recent offensive output to 8-for-22 and, at last, revealing what it was that had us panting for his promotion a year ago at this moment;

• And Jeff McNeil [6] to continue to get acclimated to big league surroundings…which will doubtlessly take a little more doing (witness Rosario’s stubbornly incremental progress to date). McNeil started at third for the first time in a Mets career that commenced Tuesday. The first ball hit toward him eluded him completely. The first time he was on second, he raced to third despite Jose Bautista having very recently slid into it and not showing any intention of leaving it. Rookies, even the 26-year-old late bloomers who were tearing up every level of the minors, will be rookies. Jeff didn’t have jitters with the bat, though. The relatively young man singled once, walked once, was intentionally passed once and Nimmo’d once (a.k.a. was pinged by a pitch). He’s not a flop. He’s not a star. He’s Jeff McNeil, New York Met, and he just got here. May he have plenty of opportunity to let us discover what he’s all about.

So, basically, I got everything I was pulling for, and I would guess you did, too. OK, maybe not everything. Twelve runs, fourteen hits and a three-game winning streak, no matter how satisfying all of it is, doesn’t seem primed to suddenly spur the current owners to clear a path for successors [7]. Or does it? Maybe a 43-57 juggernaut on a long-awaited upswing is more attractive to some mysterious deep-pocketed big shot than a 42-58 sad sack would have been. Perhaps now that Jeff McNeil is finally getting a long look, billionaire sportsmen types will be lining up to bid any minute now.

If you can bear to leave that fantasy to fester, I would direct your attention to the Mets’ record as stated in the preceding paragraph. Do the math and you’ll note we just passed the hundred-game mark. Tidy, huh? The number is round and the arithmetic is easy. At no other juncture between now and Closing Day will calculating your team’s winning percentage, unless the number of wins equals the number of losses, be such a breeze. One-hundred games means you take the wins, you bracket them with a decimal point and a zero and you have your answer. For example, the 2018 Mets have 43 wins after 100 games and are thus a .430 baseball club.

Aren’t you glad you could figure that out so quickly?

One-hundred games also provides a pause to gain one’s bearings if the bearings don’t already speak for themselves. Sadly, 2018’s bearings have said most of what they need to say to such an extent that “tell your statistics to shut up” is a perfectly polite response when they begin to clear their throat. You don’t need to be a math maven to know a .430 winning percentage doesn’t scream much in the way off imminent possibilities like they oughta be. We wouldn’t be talking dealing Cabrera if there was anything utterly unknown about the fate of this season. We probably wouldn’t be greeting McNeil, at least under these circumstances. An enlightened organization amid a playoff push might have recognized the thunder lurking in his knobless bat and put him to good use already, but we’ll never know. If our sad bearings hadn’t made themselves plenty apparent, Metsopotamia’s evergreen topic of What Will Make the Wilpons Sell? wouldn’t have returned to the fore as the current season’s odometer was reaching triple-digits.

The best and worst 100-game records in Mets history will not surprise you. The best was 1986’s — by a lot. In the year of teamwork that made the dream work, the Mets were, at this stage of their season, 68-32. That’s eight games better than any other Met team (1988) has been after 100 games. The worst was 1962’s — by enough. In the year when it wasn’t obvious anybody here could play this game, the Mets were, at this stage of their season, 26-74. That’s four games worse than any other Met team (1964) has been after 100 games.

Despite the surge that has presumably lifted our spirits these past three days, the 2018 Mets are closer to overhearing the conversation for worst 100-game marks than best. We are at present one game ahead of the pace set by the 42-58 2003 Mets…or one game behind our predecessors from 15 years ago if you frame what remains of our season as an epic struggle to determine the worst Met team of the 21st century. Also, 43-57 ties us with our 1978 and 1979 forebears. In case you’re seeking a silver lining, after 1978 and 1979, we got new owners.

What interested me most when I dug into The Mets After A Hundred Games was gleaning the point hope tends to disappear. Understanding that you’d need to know where the Mets stood in the standings in a given year to form a truly telling snapshot, most times a hundred-game record will communicate the essence of what a fan feels. When the Mets were 59-41 on five separate occasions (1984, 1985, 1990, 1999, 2006), you felt alive. This thing is there for taking, let’s get after it! When the Mets were 53-47 on four other occasions (1975, 1989, 2008, 2016), you felt anxious. We’re in this thing, but we can’t lose ground — oh, for cryin’ out loud, don’t tell me the Pirates/Cubs/Phillies/field won again. When the Mets are 43-57…well, you know exactly how that feels.

A little above .500 after 100 is where you have to start to rely on faith. Twice the Mets have been 52-48: 2002 and 2015. One of those seasons descended into a nightmare. The other ended in the World Series. Faith can be fickle that way. The 51-49 crews of 1976, 2005 and 2010 were coming at it from three distinct angles. The ’76 Mets were light years in back of Philadelphia (it was the Bicentennial, we had to let ’em have that one), so our record was mostly bookkeeping. The 2010 Mets were in full retreat from their surprisingly good first half, so winning more than losing seemed a temporary condition. The 2005 Mets, though, legitimately orbited the Wild Card race and, perhaps more vitally, were re-establishing their credibility as a franchise (something we seem to have to do every few seasons). 51-49 felt pretty, pretty good thirteen years ago.

There’s been only one literal 50-50 proposition in Mets history: the 2011 Mets. Their even-Steven 100-game mark coincided with the briefest of leaps of faith that maybe, just maybe, if everything clicked and enough other teams in front of them fell apart…nah, that wasn’t gonna happen, and it didn’t. Respectability was fleeting. Selling was on the agenda. Next thing you knew, there we were trading Beltran for Wheeler and waving .500 goodbye.

Twenty-nine Mets teams have sat below .500 after 100 games (not counting split-season 1981, which just loves getting the special “not counting” treatment in these retrospectives [8]). Barring a miracle that would consign 1969 (56-44 at 100, incidentally) to asterisk status, 2018 will be among the twenty-eight certain to wrap up its business no later than early October. Only one sub-.500 Mets club at the hundred-game mark went to the playoffs. You gotta believe it was the 1973 edition, easily dismissed at 44-56 — one lousy game better than we are now — and in last place. I’d say “buried in last place,” but the nine-and-a-half-game margin between them and first-place St. Louis paled in comparison to how far MLB’s other cellar-dwellers dwelled from the tops of their respective divisions. The Rangers were 17½ in back of the Royals in the AL West; the Indians were 20 behind the Yankees in the AL East; and the Padres languished 30½ games from the Dodgers in the NL West.

None of the first-place teams at this interval of the 1973 schedule won its division, but only the Cardinals let the losers in last relish the last laugh. (Ha!)

Nineteen Seventy-Three’s run to the National League pennant is the reason we seek every possible entrée into dreaming dreams that barely qualify as remotely statistically plausible. All those other sub-.500 records after 100 games are the evidence that such crazy dreams rarely come true. The odds are 28:1 against.

Yet we dream. We dream with tangible degrees of conviction in the face of better judgment at 49-51 (1980, 1992, 2009). We dream infinitesimally despite mostly grasping reality at 48-52 (1994, 2004, 2012). We dream ever, ever so slightly and delusionally at 47-53 (1968, 1996, 2014, 2017). We probably nod off unimpeded by bizarre dreams of contention once we dip to 46-54, as we did in 2013, but you know, in 1973 we were 44-56…

In 2018, we’re not even that. Sixty-two games to go.