Over the last two weeks, the Mets’ playoff chances have gone from intriguing to nonexistent, thanks to a 3-11 stretch in the most crucial time of the season. However, despite management spending much of the last two months pushing the narrative that the Mets are in the playoff race, the evidence seems to indicate that winning was not the main priority this year.
The Trade Deadline
The first indication of the front office’s priorities showed in late July, when the Mets still held a commanding division lead. With a chance to fill out the roster and secure an easy National League East crown, management simply did not do enough. It seemed obvious at the time, and is even clearer now that the pitching staff is in dire need of relief. While Rich Hill and Trevor Williams have performed admirably, it was never going to be enough for a rotation missing Jacob deGrom and counting on several guys keeping up unsustainable performances (see: Taijuan Walker).
As the 4:00 PM trade deadline passed, the Mets did not add more pitching. Just as many predicted, Walker’s peripherals caught up to him and his all-star season spiraled toward his career averages. Tylor Megill‘s electric start could not hold up as he careened past his career-high in innings pitched. Carlos Carrasco does not look like anything better than a fifth starter after a hamstring tear turned his season upside down.
Since the nightmare stretch against the Dodgers and Giants in August, the Mets continued to fight, keeping themselves on the outskirts of the NL East. As the players on the field tried desperately to keep their slim postseason odds alive, no game better encapsulates management’s apathy than September 14th against the Cardinals.
Cardinals at Mets, September 14th
Entering the day, the Mets were just 3.5 games back in the wild card, and five in the division. With three weeks remaining, playoff hopes were still alive. The Cardinals have since proven that all a team needs to make the postseason was four months of .500 ball and one well-timed hot streak. Even outside of this, players and management alike continued to push the narrative that the Mets were fighting for a playoff spot.
The game started off well, as the Mets pushed across two runs in the first innings. After the Cardinals tied it up against Marcus Stroman, a Conforto sacrifice fly put the Mets back on top. Entering the eighth inning, the Mets led by one before Jeurys Familia gave up a go-ahead two-run home run to Tyler O’Neill. The Mets’ rollercoaster of a season would continue, however, as Javy Baez blasted a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Mets were going to extra innings. Surely, even after Loup, Familia, May, and Diaz had been used, another big weapon like Seth Lugo or Miguel Castro should come trotting out of the bullpen. Nope. In the tenth and eleventh innings, the Mets opted for Heath Hembree (5.73 ERA in 2021), and Jake Reed (called up that day, and demoted to AAA three days later). I wonder which team won this one? Reed, of course, melted down in the eleventh, surrendering three runs and effectively marking the end of the Mets season.
To be clear, that loss does not fall on Reed. No legitimate playoff contender should have an untested rookie pitching in critical September games. Post-game, Rojas cited “arm health” and the recent workload of the bullpen when asked about his questionable in-game decisions. Seth Lugo had not appeared in the game prior, not to mention that more tested pitchers like Trevor Williams were available as well.
Yes, the health of these pitchers is the most important factor here, but teams routinely make exceptions to regular season restrictions in the hunt for a playoff birth. The fact is that if the Mets brass truly believed that the team still had a chance, Rojas would have been given the go-ahead to do whatever was necessary to win that game.
The Mets Spiral Out of Control
Since manager Luis Rojas declined to use the Mets’ best pitchers in a must-win game, the team has gone 3-10, mathematically ending any slim chances they had. The thing is, it almost certainly was not Rojas’s decision — at least not entirely. The general understanding in the industry is that managers’ on-field tactics are heavily dictated by the analytically-driven minds in the front office.
If Rojas had been instructed to use Lugo, Castro, or Williams in those extra innings, it would have been foolish for Rojas to take matters into his own hands without good reason. Clearly, the understanding in the front office was that the Mets’ slim playoff chances were not even worth the small injury risk to the Mets’ top arms.
This is where the Mets’ offseason becomes so important. Too many times this season the platitudes from management have not aligned with the tangible decision-making. And sure, every team is obligated to say “We think we can win this year!” but Mets fans are different. After over a decade under the worst owners in baseball, the fans grew accustomed to doubting anything that came from the people in charge. That’s what happens when your team has an elite core of young pitchers, but offseasons are annually highlighted by acquiring Jay Bruce and Alejandro de Aza.
Ultimately, these next four months will play a major role in establishing the image of Cohen’s New York Mets.
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