This was supposed to be Year 1 in an exciting new era of New York Mets baseball. Over the winter lifelong Mets fan and billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen purchased the team from the Wilpons, who were wholly unfit to run a major-league operation, and he spoken about the desire to turn the club into the East Coast version of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I like what the Dodgers are doing," Cohen said during his introductory press conference in November. "That's one team that easily seems to make the mark in the type of places that I want to do the same."
After the last 10 days, the gap between the Mets and Dodgers could not be any more evident. Los Angeles beat the Mets six times in seven games within the last 10 days, outscoring them 35-23 in the process. New York held a lead after only 12 of 65 innings in the seven games. One team is a World Series contender and the other talks the talk, but isn't walking the walk.
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Since Aug. 1, the Mets have lost 15 times in 21 games to nosedive out of first place in the NL East. They are 10 games into a season-defining 13-game stretch against the Dodgers and Giants and have thus far failed the test spectacularly (2-8 in the 10 games). Take a look at the standings on the morning of Aug. 1 and the standings now:
|NL East on Aug. 1||NL East on Aug. 23|
1. Mets: 55-48
1. Braves: 68-56
2. Braves: 52-53 (4 GB)
2. Phillies: 63-61 (5 GB)
3. Phillies: 51-53 (4 1/2 GB)
3. Mets: 61-63 (7 GB)
4. Nationals: 48-56 (7 1/2 GB)
4. Nationals: 53-70 (14 1/2 GB)
5. Marlins: 44-60 (11 1/2 GB)
5. Marlins: 51-74 (17 1/2 GB)
According to SportsLine, the Mets have seen their postseason odds dip from 56.0 percent on Aug. 1 to 1.6 percent on Aug. 23. FanGraphs gives an even harsher assessment. They have the club's postseason odds slipping from 67.2 percent to 3.8 percent this month. Either way, it is a colossal -- and disheartening -- collapse in very a short period of time.
"It's really tough because a few weeks ago we were in first place and feeling really good about things," Brandon Nimmo told reporters, including the New York Post's Mike Puma, over the weekend. "We knew a tough stretch was coming, but we were confident in what we had. This definitely has not been easy."
A second-half collapse like this takes a total team effort. A total organization effort, really. It's not just the players or the coaches or the front office. Everyone plays a role, including Cohen, who called out his struggling offense last week.
It’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive.The best teams have a more disciplined approach.The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie.— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 18, 2021
Yes, the offense has underperformed. The Mets are averaging only 3.78 runs per game this season, second fewest in baseball, and they seem allergic to hitting with the bases loaded (.204/.307/.301). The culprits are numerous. Francisco Lindor has underwhelmed when healthy and Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith in particular have not been close their previous selves.
"We've been getting that message all year. We haven't really hit all year long. I haven't performed. I haven't done it. Bottom line, I haven't done what I'm here to do when it comes to the offensive side," Lindor said when asked about Cohen's tweet. "Defense, they can't talk to me. Baserunning, they can't talk to me either. But offensively, yeah, criticize me. Say whatever. You're right. You're all right. I'm with them. I haven't performed."
There's also a disconnect between Cohen's comments and the team's decisions. He said the "best teams have a more disciplined approach," which is correct, but it's been less than a month since the Mets traded for Javier Báez, one of the most undisciplined hitters in the baseball. As good as Báez is at all other phases of the game, he's not the guy you get if you prioritize discipline.
The players play. The coaches and the front office and the owner can't swing the bat or throw pitches for them. The players deserve the lion's share of the blame for this collapse, I believe, but there is a hint of Wilpon era incompetence in the air as well. Perhaps we could blame that on Cohen's inexperience running a baseball team as opposed to a hedge fund, but it's not an excuse.
Former Marlins president David Samson discussed the Mets' collapse on Monday's Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:
they aggressively pursued Trevor Bauer just a few weeks later tells us the Mets didn't learn their lesson. The Mets completely botched the 2021 draft, and the decision to sign James McCann over JT Realmuto was at best questionable at the time, and it has proven to be disastrous., and the fact
"I think more than anything else, this was a timing issue for us. We have a number of needs. We can afford to wait to fill some of them. We can't afford to wait to fill all of them," president Sandy Alderson told reporters, including the New York Post's Dan Martin, after signing McCann. They were wary of a prolonged bidding war for Realmuto and now have a $40 million backup catcher.
To Cohen's credit, he has raised payroll significantly this season, though some of the decision-making with that money hasn't been great (mea culpa: I thought Lindor was well worth it). The Mets still don't have a real third baseman, the rotation has been thinned by injuries and was barely addressed at the deadline, and again the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
That has been a constant the last few seasons, hasn't it? The Mets have talent. Quite a bit of it, really, though they consistently fall short of expectations. It was a constant during the Wilpons era, and even earlier this year when they were in first place, the Mets did not pull away. The NL East is unimpressive and the Mets let the Braves hang around, even after Ronald Acuña Jr.'s injury.
The Mets spent 90 days in first place -- 90! -- and they have 37 games remaining to erase a seven-game deficit in the NL East. It's doable. I mean, the Mets just lost 11 games in the standings in 23 days. Things can change quick. Following this week's three-game series with the Giants, New York will see the Marlins and Nationals for 14 games. The schedule is in their favor in the short-term.
Can the Mets right the ship and take advantage of that favorable schedule? They haven't given us much of a reason to believe they can, to be honest. And if they don't, and they miss the postseason, it should prompt some serious self-reflection just one year into Cohen's reign as owner. Right now, not much feels different from the final few years of the Wilpons era.