A “Mets-rospective”: Reflecting on the Mets’ 2020 season
Looking back on a strange, frustrating, yet ultimately promising year for the Mets
By ELIZABETH MURATORE
Quote of the Day
“Where eight teams go in and we didn’t make it, that’s pretty frustrating. I think the level of disappointment is very high.” - Jacob deGrom
The New York Mets were eliminated from postseason contention this past weekend, in perhaps the “Metsiest” way possible. Entering play on Saturday September 26, they had to win their final three games, the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants had to lose their final two games, and the Milwaukee Brewers had to lose one of their final two games.
Every one of those things happened. Except, the Mets did not win a single game. And so their strange, COVID-shortened season ends in disappointment.
Back in February, I went into this Mets season more hopeful about the Mets than I’d ever been in my life. They finished ten games over .500 in 2019, missing the (non-expanded) playoffs by just three games. We had Pete Alonso, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. We had Jacob deGrom, the two-time reigning NL Cy Young. We had so much promising young talent, and what seemed like a wealth of starting pitching and bullpen arms.
The first major domino fell when, just a few days after spring training was halted due to COVID-19, Noah Syndergaard went on the IL and had Tommy John surgery just a few days later. The most recent Met to start a game in the postseason, and a huge piece of the Flushing starting five, was out.
Then, Marcus Stroman went on the injured list with a torn calf muscle on July 23, the day before the season restarted. He opted out of the season for good a couple of weeks later.
Even so, with a decimated starting rotation, I was still giddy when the season finally began on July 24 against the Atlanta Braves. The Mets won, 1-0, on a Yoenis Cespedes home run (remember him?). It seemed like the Amazins were off to the races, ready to out-slug and out-deGrom every opponent in their way.
How did that go, you may ask?
Though it was surprising at the time, Yoenis Cespedes opting out of the season just one week in might have been a godsend for this Mets team. It allowed Dominic Smith, a few months removed from being offseason trade bait, to play every day. He shined in his first season as a full-time, everyday Mets player, hitting .316 and landing in the top 10 in the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, and RBI. While Pete Alonso went through a bit of a sophomore slump, hitting .231 but still finishing second in the NL in home runs, Smith firmly established that he should be in a major league lineup every day.
The Mets had a couple of rookies shine in their first seasons in the Orange and Blue. David Peterson helped bail out the rotation, shooting up the team depth chart straight from Double-A to the majors. He made ten starts, gave up more than three earned runs only once, and finished with a 3.44 ERA. On the infield, Andres Gimenez flashed the leather more times than I could count and had several clutch hits to help the Mets to a few victories. Gimenez also had never played above Double-A before this season began, but his steady play made the Mets’ 2021 shortstop situation a lot more interesting.
The Mets also got a fantastic season from Michael Conforto, who delivered MVP-caliber offensive numbers alongside Smith. Heading into the offseason, Mets fans should be hoping for a big extension for their right fielder from their (probable) new owner. More on him later.
Though he may not win the Cy Young this year, in 2020 Jacob deGrom continued to be worth every penny of his $137.5 million contract. He battled through a couple of minor injuries in summer camp and throughout the season, and still led the NL in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings while finishing top-five in several other categories. His “deGoat” status is not in question whatsoever. If baseball has a full season in 2021, expect deGrom to be achieving even more remarkable pitching heights and continuing his quest for greatness.
At the risk of dwelling too much on the negative, I’ll keep this brief. To start, the Mets’ starting pitchers outside of deGrom had an ERA north of 6.00. Steven Matz took a big step back from his encouraging 2019 season and was a huge disappointment, finishing the year with an ERA of 9.68. Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha did not return to their former glory. Robert Gsellman started four games, for some reason. Seth Lugo transitioned from a reliever to a starter midway through the 60-game season and did not excel in his new role. Outside of deGrom and Peterson, there was no one else in the rotation that the Mets could rely upon for a good start. This is a huge reason why they never won more than three games in a row.
Another huge struggle for this 2020 team was hitting with runners in scoring position. The Mets led the major leagues with a .272 team batting average and were second in MLB with a .348 team OBP. Yet, they were 21st overall in the majors in batting average with RISP. Their inability to cash in runs in key spots led to their downfall in many games, especially early on in the season.
Finally, their team defense was once again a detriment. The Mets did not lead the league in errors, but fans who diligently watched their games will note that the team frequently ran into outs on the bases, misplayed balls in the outfield, and dropped throws that could have led to key outs. The 2021 Mets could certainly use a team-wide defensive upgrade, particularly at catcher and in center field.
The (Hopeful) Saving Grace
Even though the Mets did not make the playoffs in 2020, most of their fans will consider this season a success for one main reason: Steve Cohen. He is inches away from officially owning the Mets, which should happen after the MLB owners vote on the sale. Cohen grew up on Long Island as a huge Mets fan and has already endeared himself to Mets fans (and likely to the other owners) by naming former Mets general manager Sandy Alderson as his top choice for team president. He is worth over $13 billion and would become the richest owner in all of baseball if he is approved. Mets fans are practically salivating at the chance to have a real shot at the game’s top free agents, for the first time in years, with Cohen as owner.
Cohen becoming the owner would also signal a huge culture change in the Mets organization. This is a team whose ownership has boasted about playing “meaningful games in September” and built a stadium that, upon its opening, barely acknowledged the Mets.
Perhaps fittingly, the Wilpons first became co-owners of the Mets right after the 1986 season ended. Since then, the Mets have not won a championship and have made it to the World Series only twice. Now, it is time for the team to start fresh with a new era of ownership and front office hires that are smart enough to take the team to new heights.
Brandon Nimmo may have said it best on the final day of the season when he commented, in a pregame interview, "I'm glad that someone who's been a lifelong Mets fan ended up getting the team.” That’s what all Mets fans are thinking right now, Brandon.
Even though the 2020 Mets were disappointing on the field, the positive news off the field with Cohen pretty much cancels out their last-place finish in the eyes of most Mets fans. If they were going to be bad, they may as well sink in a 60-game season with a new owner hopefully on the horizon.
The 2020 season was strange in many ways, but it was also a blessing. I’m already counting down the days until their first spring training exhibition game next February, when hopefully the world will be a brighter place and Mets fans will be allowed back into the stadium to cheer for their beloved Amazins.
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