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The Champale of Years

I haven’t had many complaints with Mickey Callaway of late, but I do not believe he properly prepared his team on Wednesday night in Philadelphia coming off of the Yom Kippur fast, for they played as if lightheaded and starved for offense. Perhaps Rabbi Callaway or Cantor DiSarcina was confused by the 6:05 start time preceding sunset by nearly an hour. Whatever the nature of the Mets’ observance, Mickey clearly should have been handing out challah slices on the bench prior to first pitch. Where’s Shawn Green’s favorite clubhouse snack [1] when you need it?

Whether it was High Holy Day low blood sugar or just a case of the secular blahs, the Mets (with the exceptions of three-hit/two-steal Amed Rosario [2] and the heretofore disappeared Tim Peterson [3]) ran on empty in their Citizens Bank Park finale, dragging for nine innings and bowing [4], 4-0. Noah Syndergaard [5] continued in his late-era M*A*S*H mode, performing not all that impressively yet reminding you, as critics would of the formerly great sitcom in its latter stages, he’s still one of the best shows on television. Not too many pitchers could seem so uninspiring in so many starts and yet leave his team in position to win almost every time out. Unlike M*A*S*H in the early ’80s, N*O*A*H projects to have many scintillating seasons in front of him.

Ten games remain in 2018, so we’re probably beyond proving ground territory for any given Met. The string has been in the process of being played out for ages, but we’ve been able to enjoy the particularly unknotty portions and frame some lengths as significant in terms of who’s getting the hang of what. Now, a few sentimental flourishes aside, we’re mostly preparing to swap out pencil for pen and ink in this season’s final numbers.

We know we are officially prohibited from entering the playoffs. For those who weren’t hanging breathlessly on the standings, the Mets were eliminated from Wild Card consideration on Monday night, a little after they beat the Phillies, when the Cardinals defeated the Braves. The Braves had ousted us from divisional contention over the weekend. I don’t think there’s an At Large bid coming from the selection committee. We lasted 150 games until mathematical elimination this year, a four-game improvement in endurance over last year, though I doubt that was the goal. The 150 figure suggests a team that fell out of the race early and played what some would call meaningless games often. If anything, it means we didn’t get our hearts broken — just our souls battered.

Wednesday night’s loss being the 82nd of 2018 guaranteed a losing record in the mathematical sense, making it two straight under .500, eight of ten and 32 of 57 overall in Mets history (or 32 of 58 if you’re a 1981 split season stickler as I tend to be). Callaway was asked about the L’s outnumbering the W’s and didn’t seem too concerned: “We don’t want to have a losing season, that’s for sure. I don’t want to be one game over .500 and not make the playoffs, either. I think the playoffs and winning a World Series is the ultimate goal and we fell short of that.”

Well, yeah. Nevertheless, 82 wins is a gateway to more, and it doesn’t take that many more to vie for the playoffs in these five-berth times, and you can’t win a World Series without entry to the postseason. After 70 wins in 2017, any sign of an upward trajectory is welcome. Two signs I will high-five will be the team’s 71st win, which should it occur at any time between now and September 30, will outdo last year, and the chip-shot combination of one Met win and Marlin loss, for it will ensure the Mets won’t finish in any semblance of last place for the fifteenth consecutive season.

Let me clarify that: the Mets last finished last in 2003. This stone cold fact buzzes in the face of the widely held and disseminated perception among those seeking cheap and easy storylines that “the Mets always finish in last place.” It only seems that way, but we’re extending a franchise record here. The longest non-last stretch in Mets history prior to 2004 was nine seasons (1984-1992). Since 2004, we’ve finished not last every single year.

Not something to print on the cover of a pocket schedule, but we could have been worse all these years and we haven’t been. Feel free to pop Champale if not champagne over this modest development.

When it’s all over in ten games, barring cancellations, the Mets will complete their schedule with a record somewhere between 70-92 at worst and 80-82 at best. Other than preferring as many wins as possible, I find myself rooting at this time of otherwise hopeless year for a record we’ve never had before, just for variety’s sake. In case you haven’t committed all the Mets’ semi-respectable or slightly lesser sub-.500 records to memory, here are the still-possible-for-2018 finishes on which the Mets have previously landed:

79-83 — 2010, 2014
77-85 — 2011
74-88 — 2012, 2013
73-89 — 1968
72-90 — 1992
71-91 — 1974, 1996, 2004
70-92 — 2009, 2017

Also present in this realm are 161-game wonders 1991 (77-84) and 2002 (75-86). It would presumably take Olympic Stadium falling apart or a whole lot of rain to bring these into play.

Conversely, no Mets team has finished a full slate by posting a 75-87, 76-86, 78-84 or 80-82. My inclination is to wish for one of these fresh marks. While I’d applaud a ten-game winning streak taking us into winter, I think 80-82 would drive me batty into eternity. I’d accept it graciously, but that sense of “just one more win and we’d have been .500” has the potential to gnaw harmfully at my statistical well-being. 78-84 would be particularly appealing to me (and likely only me) because I’ve already ascertained that 78-84 would represent the 29th-best winning percentage in Mets history, slotting 2018 between 1994 and 1995, each of which were shortened by an almost endless strike. Prorated for 162 games, which is all one can do in considering them here, 1994’s 55-58 projected to 78.84 or not quite 79 wins, 1995’s 69-75 to 77.62 or a shade under 78 wins.

Who cares? Nobody but me, I assume, yet here I am elaborating on it. Why? Remember those halcyon days of April when the Mets surged to their best start ever after ten games [6]? And eleven games? And twelve games, even? That lofty status evaporated pretty quickly, but throughout the season, I’ve continued to track out of curiosity where the Mets’ record after ‘x’ number of games has rated among all of its predecessors. I haven’t done it for all 152 games to date, but I have checked in on a series-by-basis throughout the second half and done a little backfilling besides.

In brief, the 2018 Mets were one of the worst Mets teams on a game-by-game basis at the midpoint of this season and kept getting worse until the two-thirds mark. After 108 games, they held the 48th-best record of any Mets team — and there had been only 55 other Mets teams to which to compare them (asterisk-besieged 1981 was on the sidelines by then). Since then, though, they’ve been climbing my imaginary ladder. No. 42 after 118 games. No. 40 after 127 games. No. 36 after 136 games. Since the 146th game, they’ve been holding steady at No. 31.

Meaning? Probably nothing, but for my and history’s purposes, they’re no longer nearly as relatively bad as they can be. They have shaken off the truly godawful 1962-1965, 1967, 1977-1979 and 1993 teams. They are a cut above the abysmal 1966, 1980, 1982 and 1983 renditions. 2003, our most recent last-place finisher, has taken a definitive backseat. A few more wins puts a bunch more losing teams behind them. A few beyond that? It doesn’t catapult us into those playoffs Callaway and we crave, but after 162 games of commitment to the cause, it would be something.

A very little something, a.k.a. better than absolutely nothing. Put that on your pocket schedule.