By Brad Kallet
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Wednesday night was brutal. Horrible. Painful. From start to finish, with every pitch and every at-bat, it was absolutely excruciating.
In other words, it was a Mets playoff game.
In all seriousness, though, the Mets lost an incredibly well-played baseball game to a championship team that just so happened to have one of the greatest postseason pitchers in major league history on the mound. What are you gonna do?
Was it disappointing? Of course. But, with all of their injuries, it was a miracle that this team made it to the playoffs in the first place. And had they advanced to the NLDS, there was no way they were downing the loaded Chicago Cubs with Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting rotation. Had they somehow toppled Joe Maddon’s juggernaut, they were not going to win two more series. In some ways, it’s a relief that this roller-coaster ride of a season has come to its merciful end.
No, what’s upsetting me in the aftermath of this season isn’t the fact that the Mets aren’t headed to Chicago. Rather, there’s a feeling of missed opportunity, not from 2016, but from 2015. With meaningful baseball six months away, the failure to complete the job a year ago stings as much as it ever has.
Terry Collins’ club had everything working for it in 2015. After winning the division, largely in part because the Washington Nationals couldn’t stay healthy and Yoenis Cespedes hit like Hank Aaron down the stretch, the Mets got past the Clayton Kershaw- and Zack Greinke-led Dodgers in five games to advance to the NLCS. Then, against the Cubs, who appeared to be a team of destiny, the Mets looked like world beaters. Powered by Daniel Murphy, who put on one of the most unbelievable postseason displays in major league history, the Mets toyed with the Cubs, sweeping them with ease.
In the World Series, the Mets, who were more talented than the Kansas City Royals, were undone by poor defense, a failure to situationally hit and three blown saves by Jeurys Familia. They only won one game, but they could, and probably should, have won four. Can a five-game series really be that close? As ridiculous as it might sound, it can be that close, and if you watched last year’s Fall Classic, you understand that.
The Mets could have been 27 outs from a third World Series title — not exactly one strike away — but they blew it. With Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard forming a dominant rotation; with Cespedes and Murphy anchoring the lineup; with the team riding an incredible wave of momentum; and with a Royals team that was far from dynamic in the opposing dugout, the Mets should have won that series.
They had to.
But they didn’t, and let a golden chance slip through their fingers. Why did they have to capture that elusive trophy? Because you never know when — or if — that opportunity will present itself again. Everything broke right in 2015. In 2016, everything broke wrong.
When Cespedes was shockingly re-signed ahead of spring training, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that New York would win 90-plus games and battle the Cubs yet again for a spot in the World Series.
But then David Wright got hurt. And Travis d’Arnaud got hurt. And Lucas Duda got hurt. And Neil Walker got hurt. And the Mets lost three-fifths of their ace-heavy rotation, not to mention that Zack Wheeler, who was supposed to return in the summer, never threw a pitch. And on and on and on and on and on.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Meanwhile, four hours south in D.C. and in a reversal of fortunes, the Nationals stayed healthy. Just like that, the Mets found themselves in a do-or-die game, staring down one of the most clutch professional athletes of his generation. Three hours later, it was all over. Another unfulfilled season in the books.
Why rehash last year’s torment, especially considering the 2016 season ended not even 48 hours ago? To illustrate, quite simply, that nothing is guaranteed. Nothing can be taken for granted. No matter how bright the future looks, it can’t be predicted.
The 2015 World Series haunted the Mets and their fans, and it will only hurt more and more until this team makes up for it and ascends to the top of the mountain.
Considering the circumstances, I believe this season slots in nicely on the list of the most heartbreaking for this franchise this century, somewhere among the 2000 (World Series loss to the Yankees), 2006 (which was the absolute worst, hands down), 2007 and 2008.
On a lighter note — I think we could all use some positive thinking right now — the Mets should have the pieces in place to return to the postseason for a third consecutive season in 2017, even if they suffer half the number of injuries they did this year. The rotation is still intact and the majority of the key players are under contract. Look at what the Mets did with this roster, and then add full seasons from Matz, Wheeler, Harvey and deGrom. Look out.
Cespedes needs to be a priority, and it’s far from a sure thing that he’ll be on the roster next April. We’ll have a clearer picture of that situation in the coming weeks. To a lesser extent, general manager Sandy Alderson should attempt to re-sign Walker, who might decide that accepting a qualifying offer makes sense. Much of the Mets’ success next season will hinge on whether Michael Conforto can play up to his potential and if Jay Bruce can again hit like an elite slugger.
We’ll get to all of that in the weeks and months ahead, as with every passing day the sinking feeling in our stomachs will dissipate more and more. It’s also worth remembering that, although this season was far from satisfying, the fact that this iteration of the Mets reached the postseason is a tremendous accomplishment, especially considering the precarious place they found themselves in in late August.
It’s something, but it’s not nearly enough. And it won’t be until they’re the last ones standing.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet