The mainstream media, and especially ESPN, would have you believe that this season is another September collapse by the New York Mets. As a member of the fan base, I’ve been watching the results play out, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this season is so remarkably different to last season. While last year the Mets had a lead of seven games with 17 games to play over Philadelphia, this year’s team actually came from behind to take a three-and-a-half-game lead over the Phillies. Unlike last season, this year the Mets have dealt with so many injuries, they legitimately can say on paper that they should have no chance at this division.
Neither starting corner outfielder for our projected Opening Day lineup will play 100 games this season, due to their injuries. This might have been expected to happen with Moises Alou, considering he’s in the age demographic that won’t coincide with Carl Everett’s religious beliefs, but Ryan Church’s fluke head injury could not have been anticipated, nor the manner in which it happened. Yunel Escobar was about 30 feet toward second base when Church began his slide, and that play by itself probably doomed the Mets. The most talented of their backups, Angel Pagan and Fernando Tatis, both went down with injuries caused by their fielding. (Give a short pause for the reflection required to admire the irony of that statement.)
We lost Luis Castillo in July, and even though he’s now come back to play, that level of play has been so poor that he might as well never have come back. He won’t make it into 100 games this season.
We lost Billy Wagner in August, and, regardless of his peripherals, this was one of his worst seasons, according to WARP, Win Shares, and WPA, since he became a star closer. He had an 80% success rate for saves, blowing seven before being shut down for the season and undergoing Tommy John surgery. The difference in WPA between Wagner and Brad Lidge, the Phillies closer, is more than four wins.
Aaron Heilman has turned into Guillermo Mota, as have almost all of our relievers; they have a negative WRXL for the second half of the season, which means replacement level would be an upgrade in performance. We’ve blown 27 saves this season.
We lost John Maine by August 23rd, but really we should look to his leaving the game in Florida on July 28th as the true end of his season.
I haven’t even mentioned Pedro Martinez, who left his first start of the season injured, and returned two months later…only to look so awful many wish he had never come back. Even our stop-gap replacements shrewdly signed by Omar Minaya, Claudio Vargas and Tony Armas, Jr., were lost for the season due to injury. Their projected replacement, Jason Vargas, has only recently started pitching in the Arizona Fall League after missing most of the season recovering from hip surgery.
If you look at the games lost to injury from our starters, we dwarf that of our nearest rival, the Philadephia Phillies. What’s their excuse for only having a half-game lead over the Mets at the time of writing? Their closer hasn’t blown a save this season. Our closer blew seven before being shut down in August. Our interim “closer,” Luis Ayala, blew two of his own. Where were their injuries? Jimmy Rollins missed some time in April and May. Geoff Jenkins was lost for the season after playing in more regular season games than Church will be able to this season, even if Church plays every game down the stretch. The only injury you thought might have hurt the Phillies before the season began was the loss of Tom Gordon, but the way he pitched it was a blessing in disguise.
What I’m trying to say, as I parade the numerous things that have gone wrong for the Mets is this: the mainstream media won’t mention all of our injuries. They don’t want to hear excuses from the Mets, and the Mets won’t give any to the press. But the mainstream media has always been anti-Mets, and that’s not going to change. I’m even hearing rumblings of excuses from the Bronx, pointing to their injuries. This team is not supposed to be where it is right now at all, and with all the things that have gone wrong for us this season, you have to look positively on what we have a chance for this season.
Think positively: we’re currently only a half-game behind the Phillies and a half-game ahead of the Brewers. If you were to tell any one of us this horror checklist of injuries and poor performances before the season and tell us we’d be only a half-game out of first, we would have laughed in your face. If anything, we’ve over-performed in several facets of the game. So, as hard as this is to hear, take the rest of this season for granted. We shouldn’t have had meaningful games in September to begin with; this is all just gravy, caring about every game we have left. And that’s far and away the best we could have hoped for with all these injuries.