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The Downside of Prophecy

When the Mets finish up with the Cardinals they will play their next 19 games against the Braves, Cubs, Phillies and Yankees, bringing them to the All-Star break. Those four clubs have a collective winning percentage of .572. You never know in baseball, but those 19 games may provide a decisive verdict about who, exactly, the 2019 Mets are and what’s possible for them.

That was me back on June 15, after the Mets dropped both the completion of a suspended game and a regularly scheduled one against the Cardinals, and oh, how I wish I could write that the Mets made a fool out of me, as well as the Braves, Phillies, Yankees and Cubs. Baseball is refreshing in that you want to be proved wrong in your pessimism, hoping and perhaps even praying that you will be mockingly reminded of your lack of faith and derided for seeing little black clouds everywhere.

But I wasn’t wrong.

In those 19 games, the Mets went 6-13, which I would indeed call a pretty decisive verdict. The Mets began that day of baseball with a chance to go over .500; they never got there and now that less than lofty goal appears far out of reach.

Which means we’ve moved on to all-too-familiar Mets territory for the summer, asking not, “Can we make the playoffs?” but “How quickly will the Mets admit they aren’t going anywhere and start thinking about the future?” In past lost summers they’ve been depressingly slow to work through the psychological stages of that, stalling somewhere between denial and bargaining. Maybe it will be different this year under Brodie Van Wagenan, but so far nothing much has been different about his tenure. (Not really a surprise, since all Met roads lead to the BRIDGE OUT AHEAD signs and hazard blinkers that mark the dead end of Wilpon Gulch.)

The Mets won’t see the Phils again until June, at which point if Rhame’s logged more than a couple of weeks away from Syracuse, something’s probably gone pretty seriously wrong. Maybe in that series Hoskins can get mad at Drew Gagnon [1].

The final game before the All-Star break proved me a prophet once again, also to my dismay. Jacob Rhame [2] has indeed proved a threat only to minor-league batters since his tete-a-tete with Rhys Hoskins [3] back in April, but the Mets and Phils remain PO’ed at each other, with hit batters a-plenty, spates of warnings issued and all-too-much chest-thumping clubhouse bravado. (Which is all the bravado the Mets can muster, having just dropped six out of seven to their neighbors down 95.)

The final game was another disaster, marked by Jay Bruce [4] firing more thunderbolts at his hapless former mates, the Mets not collecting a hit until the sixth, and the usual non-relief and inept defense. The only flaw with my prediction was that the target of Hoskins’ (perfectly justified) ire was Wilmer Font [5], not Gagnon, but does it particularly matter? The Phils won by five [6], and the game never seemed that close.

It’s another lost season, but somehow not one without its pleasures. The Mets’ first hit off Aaron Nola [7] was a home run from Pete Alonso [8], struck off an 0-2 curve that was a little higher than Nola wanted it. It was Alonso’s 30th homer of the season, leaving him standing alongside Dave Kingman [9] as the only Met to hit 30 before the break. (Happily, Alonso stands apart from Kingman in being a far better hitter, fielder and human being.)

The story of the second half is clear: We’ll watch Alonso try to outpace Kingman’s twice-achieved 37 (back in ’76 he landed on his thumb and missed five weeks) and take aim at Howard Johnson [10], Mike Piazza [11] and Carlos Delgado [12] (38), Darry Strawberry (39), Piazza again (40) and finally the unlikely duo of Todd Hundley [13] and Carlos Beltran [14], the Met co-record-holders with 41 homers.

Polar Bear Pete is somehow one of three Mets All-Stars, alongside Jeff McNeil [15] and Jacob deGrom [16], who has a permanent berth on the All-Star-Crossed roster. You’d think a team with three All-Stars would be better than 10 games under .500, but here we are. I’m going to cheer for Alonso in the Home Run Derby, for all three of them in the midsummer showcase, and then we’ll see if the season can bring us something heartening beyond a home-run chase.

Maybe Alonso can top not just Hundley and Beltran but also Christian Yelich [17], sitting atop the NL ranks with 31 homers. Maybe McNeil can top John Olerud [18]‘s .354 club mark, win a batting title while playing the entire last game, or both. Maybe deGrom can actually get a win now and then. Maybe Amed Rosario [19] and Tomas Nido [20] can make progress, Michael Conforto [21] can get healthy, and Noah Syndergaard [22] can shake off the cobwebs of a weird season. Maybe we get a Brandon Nimmo [23] sighting — or even a glimpse of Jed Lowrie [24]! Maybe the bullpen can be something other than a raging inferno. (Dare to dream!) Maybe the likes of Zack Wheeler [25], Todd Frazier [26] and other tradeables can yield more inspiring than interchangeably crummy right-handed relievers.

I’m not making any predictions, particularly not ones that might be viewed as optimistic. But there’s baseball left to watch and maybe even enjoy, within our once-again reduced horizons. And despite it all, that’s good enough for me.