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Little Things With Big Effects

If you’ve had your fill of Mets angst and drama (and who hasn’t) you might have missed Sandy Alderson’s contention [1] yesterday that the Mets should be better than their putrid record because their run differential (currently at -6) suggests they ought to be nearly  a .500 team rather than one staring way, way up at that mediocre number.

Hold that thought.

That was on my mind last night as Greg and I rolled into the MLB Fan Cave, where we’d been kindly invited to check out some art and baseball. As we arrived God was attempting to drown New York (eh, He probably had his reasons) and the monsoon was playing havoc with the DirecTV feeds, so the two of us dripped and squished our way over to a bank of little monitors and found the Mets in the bottom of the first, the Braves with the bases loaded and nobody out, and Jacob deGrom [2]‘s vast multitude of hairs standing on end. We exchanged a wary/weary glance and settled in to cheer the mini-deGrom on.

The Braves were working hard against deGrom, fouling off pitch after pitch and being uncharacteristically selective. I thought to myself unhappily that it had to be 95 degrees in Atlanta. (Close enough; it was 91.)

DeGrom fanned Justin Upton [3]. He coaxed a fly ball to right from Jason Heyward [4] which we thought was deeper than it was; B. J. Upton broke from third and then headed back. Greg and I exchanged shrugs. Perhaps we’d arrived at the perfect time to give the karmic wheel a much-needed spin back to Metsian justice.

With two outs now, deGrom dUg in against Chris Johnson [5]. On his seventh pitch, Johnson hit a shoulder-high liner that intersected with Eric Campbell [6] at third. It was a hot shot, the kind of play you can’t expect your third baseman to make but hope he does. Campbell didn’t; the ball bounded into the left-field corner and three runs scored.

That was all that mattered; despite our attempts to convince each other otherwise, the Mets were beaten [7]. Your bloggers played a bit of skee ball and table tennis, talked baseball with old pals, met very personable and so far not suicidal Mets fan/Fan Caver Daniel Frankel (whom you can follow here [8]), and had about a good a time as can be had when your hapless baseball team is getting swept in Atlanta. When the Fan Cave festivities ended we headed a few blocks west to watch the inevitable end, and wound up playing a very Metsian parlor game: Who is the least-consequential Met in team history? I think it’s Jim Mann [9]; other early picks worthy of consideration are Jack Egbert [10], Joe Depastino [11], Brian Buchanan [12] and Fred Lewis [13].

(If you wanna play, some ground rules: The least-consequential Met has to be the kind of guy you’d forget, not the kind of guy you’d like to forget. He cannot come with a memorable moment, a significant body of work elsewhere, an interesting statistical oddity, a famous/infamous distinction, or any kind of mythic resonance — however pathetic and sad — to his career. This eliminates the admittedly less-than-immortal likes of Esix Snead [14], Chris Jelic [15], Dave Liddell [16], Garrett Olson [17], Eric Cammack [18] and Joe Hietpas [19], to name but a few.)

But back to Alderson and run differential. Sandy’s assertion was branded as stubborn, delusional, desperate, pathetic, etc. and all the things you’d expect from a fanbase pushed by frustration to a collective nervous breakdown. I just shrugged. Because Sandy’s correct — run differential generally does track a team’s record pretty well [20]. If the Mets retain the current roster, they may indeed close in on .500 — not because they’re tested/tougher/more resilient/blah blah blah, but because the math on these things tends to be self-correcting. When that happens, I’ll cheer. (And probably praise the Mets for being tested/tougher/more resilient/blah blah blah, even though I should know better.) For now, though, the Mets’ ExWL of 42-43 [21] isn’t exactly making me work on a Ya Gotta Believe banner.

Which brings us full circle to Campbell and that first inning. He was in the right spot. He almost corraled Johnson’s liner to end the inning. DeGrom would have strode off the mound having escaped. The Mets’ fourth-inning run (which Greg and I both missed) might have held up for a 1-0 victory. But Campbell didn’t do that. The ball went down the line, the Mets lost, and this flat frustration of a season creeps along.