Yes, it has come to this. With the regular season continuing on with no end in sight, yet no reason to continue to care about the Mets’ place in the standings, I thought about how much excitement I had about the 2009 season back in March. Heck, I even flew down to Florida and spent four days shadowing the team around South Florida. Clearly, I would not have done this for a team that I didn’t have some degree of expectations.
As a Mets fan, having my expectations shattered is something I’m all too familiar. Since I’m on a huge negativity kick, why not go back and look at seasons where, on paper, the Mets looked vaguely interesting, only for everything to come crashing down in the end. I’m not ranking these in any particular order, since any system I devised would likely be completely arbitrary and settle no arguments.
I’m also not going back any further than the 80’s, since I couldn’t really say how disappointing seasons were in the 60’s and 70’s, since I wasn’t alive. Another thing I’m going to avoid is including seasons in which the Mets made the playoffs. Yes, 2006 was ultimately disappointing, but the playoffs are a crapshoot. Instead, let’s look at other seasons where the Mets have crushed our hopes.
Why expectations were high
The team had just won the World Series, and most of the core from that team was intact.
Kevin Mitchell, Stan Jefferson, Shawn Abner (former #1 overall draft pick by the Mets), Kevin Armstrong, and Kevin Brown (not THAT Kevin Brown) traded to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging.
Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo traded to the Kansas City Royals for David Cone and Chris Jelic.
Ray Knight signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent.
92-70, second place in the NL East, 3 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
What went wrong
For starters, Dwight Gooden entered rehab on April 1st, and did not play for the first two months of the season. When Gooden rejoined the team on June 5th, the Mets were 26-25, in fourth place in the NL East and six games in back of the Cardinals. While it’s hard to blame Gooden for the entire three game defecit, it isn’t completely out of the question that a healthy Doc helps them make up a game or two in the standings.
The Mets’ pitching staff also was not as strong as it had been the previous season, even factoring in Doc’s absence. Bob Ojeda had surgery in May and did not return until September. Rick Aguilera missed much of the season as well. Ron Darling’s problem with walks came back to haunt him, as did problems with the long ball. Despite stealing David Cone from the Royals, that trade didn’t pay immediate dividends; Coney was a year away from becoming truly dominant.
Overall, the Mets were fifth in the league in runs scored, down from second the season before. This offset an offense that actually scored more runs than they had the season before, when they had led the National League in runs scored by 50 runs. Darryl Strawberry had the best season of his career, setting career highs in home runs, walks, stolen bases, runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Howard Johnson took over at third base and paid immediate dividends, well outperforming his predecessor Ray Knight. All of this helped offset the decline of Gary Carter and one dreadful season by Wally Backman.
The Kevin Mitchell trade was the opposite of the David Cone trade; eventually, it would look silly that they traded Mitchell for McReynolds, but it didn’t hurt them in ‘87. After struggling a bit for the Padres in the first half, he was traded to the Giants, and he blossomed in San Francisco. After 1988, it would be hard to say that McReynolds had a season where he definitely outperformed Mitch. Mitch was probably the better player overall in ‘87, but it was a close call and not so much of a disparity that it killed the Mets or anything.
Mets pitching just couldn’t stay healthy enough to win the NL East this season. The injuries forced some sub-optimal starters into the staff (John Mitchell and his career 4 K/9 made 19 of his career 37 starts this season) and even traded for John Candelaria in September. Coupled with Ron Darling’s decline, and you have an ‘87 team that scored 40 more runs than the season before, but that was balanced out by the pitching and defense allowing 120 more runs than previous year. The Cards came back after an injury-plagued season of their own in 1986 to take back the NL East crown, the last one they would ever win.