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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Not Yet Altogether Abysmal

The Mets have guaranteed they won’t win 90 games in 2021. They’ve guaranteed it quite a bit by their play in the second half, but they clinched not reaching a win total generally associated with playoff participation on Monday night by losing at Citi Field to the Cardinals, 7-0, and nailing down their 73rd loss. If the Mets win their next 17 games, the most wins they can total (barring an unforeseen play-in situation) is 89. Also, if these Mets win their next 17 games, you may not notice, what with pigs flying.

Because 90 wins are not an automatic qualifier for the playoffs, the Mets aren’t exactly out of hope for making the postseason. You and I are probably out of hope, but the numbers say go ahead and calculate if not dream. They’ve dropped to 5½ behind Atlanta in the division, though if they can close the gap to three when they reach the final weekend in Atlanta, it’s not impossible to imagine a series sweep, a one-game playoff and swine in the sky. You may remember the Mets angled their aspirations late in 1987 and 1990 on similar scenarios when those Mets, each lodged in second place in September, aimed at final sets of games in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. Just stay close enough to sweep, we told each other. The Mets were mathematically eliminated literally the day before those series started both times — and those Mets teams both won more than 90 games.

Then there’s the Wild Card, initiated in the mid-1990s as the mid-September refuge of not altogether abysmal also-rans. If you arrive at this juncture of the season with a Card in the hand, you don’t worry about what’s going on at the Busch. The Dodgers have a Wild Card in hand. They may still be able to trade it in for a less stressful ticket at the top of their division, but they’re gonna make the playoffs either way. So are the Giants, who have already clinched a spot, if not the NL West. The division title is preferable because it grants you an entire series in October, an entire series in which losing Game One doesn’t immediately push you out the door. It’s known as the League Division Series. It could be marketed as the Margin for Error.

Wild Card designation grants you exactly one game against another Wild Card designee. Win it and move on to a best-of-five. Lose it and go home. That game this year will pit some lucky not altogether abysmal also-ran the chance to test their mettle against either the Dodgers or Giants for all of nine innings. The Giants and Dodgers have each already passed 90 wins, and both are capable of hitting a hundred. Win an all-or-nothing game against one of them and you’ve earned the right to move on.

What’s left beyond the geographic boundaries of the East (which theoretically isn’t out of reach from us or Philadelphia despite Atlanta sitting 4½ clear of the mangy pack) and the Central (where Milwaukee can chill at Arnold’s Drive-In between now and the NLDS) is the second Wild Card. Let’s upper-case that since it’s now sort of our target: the Second Wild Card. Currently in what we’ll call the not altogether abysmal also-ran race, the Reds lead the Padres and Cardinals by a half-game apiece. The Padres were hyped as a contender all along. The Reds were a surprise for a while but have ensconced themselves as too legit to be dismissed since July. The Cardinals’ rise has been stealthy as hell, yet the Cardinals, as we saw Monday night, are never to be counted out. The birds on the bat on the chest are sneaky devils. They always have been. If we didn’t learn that in not good enough 92-70 1987 (or go home anyway 98-64 1985), we learned it for sure in 97-65 2006 at the hands of Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and the 83-78 Cardinals as they absconded in Game Seven with what we just assumed was our National League pennant.

Ah, Wainwright and Molina, a couple of terrific old-time competitors from another era. I wonder if St. Louis management has thought about bringing them in down the stretch drive to maybe make a pregame appearance, fire up the crowd, give a little pep talk to the modern players about what it was like way back fifteen years ago. It might be fun to see what those two are up to now.

Also involved in the grab for the Second Wild Card are the Phillies, 2½ in back of the Reds while we’re 3½ back in this ad hoc division. Whether divining our faint opportunities in the NL East or for the Second Wild Card, we keep discounting Philadelphia’s presence. We want to catch Atlanta. We want to catch Cincinnati/St. Louis/San Diego. Philadelphia we figure we’ll just sort of step over or around. Why wouldn’t we? We’re New York. They’re an enormous metropolitan area practically next door to ours and if it weren’t for sports many of us wouldn’t be conscious they exist because, you know, we’re much more enormous. That’s the benefit of being New York in the broad sense. The drawback of being New York in this particular playoff push, is that Philadelphia is not so much practically next door but practicably above us, north rather than south. They’re one game ahead everywhere we look. Maybe it’s better we don’t look too hard.

Alas, we have nowhere left to look but up. At passing the Phillies, then the Padres and Cardinals, then the Reds as we steam along on our hypothetical seventeen-winning streak when not distracted by flying pigs. Or pulling past the Phillies to within a three-game series sweep of the Braves. Those are your possibilities when you’ve proven statistically incapable of winning 90 out of 162 games.

Which is to say not very possible, but not yet impossible. The Mets have twice clinched playoff berths with fewer than 90 wins. We won the First Wild Card in 2016 with a spirited 87 wins (which left us no Margin for Error) and we won the NL East in 1973 with a legendary 82 wins. When we get around to invoking 1973 this time of year, it usually means things are getting desperate in the September standings. It was a long time ago, but I’m pretty sure pigs flew. They don’t do that very often.

10 comments to Not Yet Altogether Abysmal

  • Eric

    I was hoping for inspiration from the 2016 Mets but then looked it up https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/?year=2016&month=09&day=13. After game 145, they were 77-68 and holding the 2nd wildcard. So that doesn’t work.

    Score a robust 10, 7, and 7 versus the Yankees and then shut out by the Cardinals, a team the Mets are supposedly chasing, with another heap of RISP LOB. The playoffs aren’t out of reach. The Mets just aren’t catching up.

  • Seth

    It’s sad — the Mets could have been the Giants this year. In more ways than one…

    • mikeL

      if there’s a silver lining to last night’s loss, the mets finally lost in embarrassing fashion. enough 1-run losses. this was not the streak i’ve been clamoring for. *maybe* the bats will wake up after such a disruption of their current, apparently comfortable, routine for losing (ahh if it actually *worked* like that, i know!)

      what i *don’t* understand is how luis-i-pinch-hit-for-a-very-hot-and-most-reliable-center fielder-in extras-rojas doesn’t pinch hit for a completely lost, frustrated and miserable jeff mcneil with the game, and therefore the season on the line.

      4-5 less boneheaded moves over the past week, THESE mets woulld be holding the 2nd wildcard spot, looking DOWN. who knew?

      the bitter icing here is that if the mets *don’t* make it to the post-season, it’s fair to assume rojas won’t be back….because if the mets do make it anything can happen.

  • eric1973

    In order to invoke 1973, the entire division needs to play .500 ball, and that ain’t happenin’ this year.

    Also, right about now, in 1973, the Mets began a 7 game winning streak, and also took 4 of 5 from the Bucs. That ain’t happenin’ either. No clutch hitters on this team, like we had with Millan, Jones, Staub, Garrett, and Grote, and throw in some Grand Slams from Milner and some great defense from Harrelson and Hahn.

    We also had clutch pitching from Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, and Stone, and great relief from McGraw and Harry Parker. We certainly have none of that this year.

    If Rojas managed that team, Seaver and Koosman only go 6 each time out, and we do not win anything.

  • eric1973

    The Great Baez experiment looks like it’s coming to a close in the next few weeks. Half the time, he looks like the most exciting player in baseball, and the other half the time, he looks like the dumbest guy ever to play the game.

    The dumb half includes all the strikeouts, two CRUCIAL misplays against the Yankees, baserunning with his head up his ass, and this weird relationship with Brother Golden Hair.

    Yea, another 341 mil man like this is just what we need. And he thinks WE need to do better.

    Thumbs Down and Adios, my friend.

  • mikeL

    altogether pretty abysmal:
    broadway boxing on SNY
    game on MLB-TV only.
    weak, in and out signal from 880.
    no mets baseball is indeed worse than infuriatingly frustrating mets baseball.

    win streak to the finish. aim high while dreaming!

  • Mike from Atlanta

    On another note, great job Greg on “Once Upon a Time in Queens.” Your appearance and commentary was a nice distraction to watch while I tracked the Mets bullpen blow the lead last night on the MLB app. It made the extra inning loss easier to swallow. Well done!

  • […] can still do the math, but at this point of this season, a Mets fan doesn’t need to be Yakov Smirnoff to understand the […]

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