by Paul West
Only a week into the season, and in the eyes of some Mets fans, the sky is already falling. Despite an offseason in which they seemed to assemble an AL-quality lineup, they’re last in the National League in runs scored. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom left his first start with lat tightness, which will cause him to miss at least one subsequent start. They’ve just lost two of three games to the rebuilding-at-best Phillies, and folks all around Mets fandom as thinking, uh oh.
The last time the Mets were an acknowledged powerhouse was in 2006. They stomped their way through the NL East, going 97-65 and winning the division by 12 games; they had the best record in the National League, and they had a dangerously talented mix of youth and experience. Then they lost their ace, Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, to surgery for a torn calf muscle and a torn rotator cuff. As if that wasn’t enough, they lost another starting pitcher, Orlando Hernandez, to a torn muscle that also ended his season. They still made through the NLDS, even without two-fifths of their rotation; and they made it all the way to Game Seven of the NLCS, on a chilly night in an exuberant Shea Stadium. When Endy Chavez made one of the best game-saving plays in postseason history, it seemed as if destiny was on the Mets’ side. Then Yadier Molina–who had hit six home runs during the 2006 regular seas0n–hit one out in the top of the ninth. Then Carlos Beltran–who has since cemented himself as one of the best postseason players of his generation–looked at a curveball down the middle, with the bases loaded, to end the game.
The next year, the Mets began the season loaded with the same talent. They rolled through the regular season…until one of the most epic collapses in baseball history. The year after that, they piled up one injury after another and, again, collapsed down the stretch. The following half-decade of swooning baseball misery seemed like half a century, as the Mets franchise found one way after another to render itself a laughing stock and label itself cursed.
Then, last year, came the Mets’ meteoric rise. As their gaggle of aces all matured at the same time, their offense exploded in historic fashion in the second half as Yoenis Cespedes had one of the greatest post-deadline finishes ever. Meanwhile, the almost-discarded Wilmer Flores became a baseball folk hero as he discovered his stroke and made Citi Field rock. The Mets, all of a sudden, rode their own wave of destiny all the way to the National League pennant. They lost a hard-fought World Series to a team that had its own Cinderella story to complete, but Mets fans once again had cause to hope–and to fret.
Cut back to 2016, with a loaded Mets team that’s been bitten by the injury bug and is off to a slow start. There’s almost literally an entire season left, but Mets fans will be eyeing the nearest high parapets until further notice. Fortunately, there are differences between this team and the 2006-8 team–namely the highly touted Big Four pitching staff. Even with deGrom sidelined, the Mets can afford to give him adequate rest because of the depth of their rotation. Meanwhile, while their collective slump is troubling, the Mets have too much talent in their lineup to stay at the bottom of the offensive rankings for long. Manager Terry Collins might have to take the reins off of talents like Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, instead of burying them below the middle of the lineup; but the Mets will likely begin hitting sooner rather than later, and if the pitching remains true to form, the exodus from the Citi Field outpost of Panic City can finally begin.