In March, when every team's got big dreams and high hopes, Bovada all but told the Mets "don't dream, don't hope." The online bookmaker had the Mets at 33-to-1 to win the World Series, behind the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox, and tied with the Cincinnati Reds. Hindsight is 20/20, so it's easy to say now that those odds were too pessimistic. But considering what the Mets had at the time, and how predictable much of this season went for them, it actually wasn't that hard to say even then that those odds were too pessimistic.
Sandy Alderson and the Mets didn’t build a perfect roster. They never claimed to be the best team in baseball during the regular season. But maybe we’re too hung up on those kinds of things anyway.
The Mets’ first half was exactly what it needed to be. It wasn’t always pretty. The offense was brutal; not just at times, but often. Reliable veterans like Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon proved to be not so reliable after all. Zack Wheeler was gone before the season got under way. David Wright missed most of the season with a bum hamstring and a spinal stenosis diagnosis, leaving the franchise without its longtime front man. Depite all this, the Mets carried a 47-42 record into the break, putting them squarely in the playoff picture. At the time of the All Star Game, the Mets had a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs, and were only two games behind the preseason favorites—the Nationals—for the division lead.
The first half of the season gave the Mets some hope. The second half would see them deliver on that promise in ways that even the most die-hard fans couldn’t have expected. To better understand how the Mets got to where they are today, we need to explore a few key themes from the Mets’ 2015 season.
We all know about the pitching. Jacob deGrom, though not technically young, is in just his second season as a big leaguer and as a stalwart at the front of the Mets’ rotation. Matt Harvey bounced back from Tommy John surgery, smashed through his innings limit, and provided a deadly one-two punch for the club. Noah Syndergaard stepped into the rotation and handled the promotion admirably, posting a low-3 ERA in his rookie season. Steven Matz outpitched nearly everyone in the minor leagues and finally earned a call to the show. He rewarded the club with 30-plus strong innings down the stretch, while keeping the rest of the young rotation fresh. Jeurys Familia, once a promising starting pitching prospect, now locks down the back end of a bullpen that parties into October. He recorded 43 saves while posting an ERA under 2. The Mets had plenty of young pitching, and they needed every bit of it.
We knew the pitching was going to be there. Nobody should have been shocked when the Mets' touted pitching prospects all delivered during the course of the season. TINSTAAPP, of course, presaged that things wouldn’t be easy, but when pitcher attrition hit—Gee's implosion and Wheeler's elbow calcification—and Syndergaard and Matz arrived, it became clear that the Mets had beat back the risk with sheer numbers.
The real surprise though, was the young hitters. Travis d’Arnaud would only play 67 games during the regular season, injuries predictably keeping him off the field. When he was on the field however, he delivered solid production with both bat and glove. But if d’Arnaud was a nice surprise, Michael Conforto was the Nintendo 64 of surprises. Conforto was a 2014 draftee who just a year later was making a significant contribution to the Mets' stretch run. He went from the 10th pick in the draft (and a controversial one) to a two-win major-leaguer (over just 200 plate appearances) in just 13 months.
And Wilmer Flores, just 24 years old, became a folk hero in New York after being traded and them untraded at the deadline. The Mets got more than 20 combined WARP from players who had less than three years in the majors.
There were plenty of reasons to criticize the Mets' signing of Michael Cuddyer, especially considering that it cost the club its first-round pick in the 2015 draft. While Cuddyer might not have been the shrewdest pickup, his presence on the roster provided depth that would be tested routinely throughout the season.
There was precious little activity from the Mets' front office for much of the spring and summer. That was until Alderson nearly traded for Carlos Gomez, and then actually traded for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. Alderson parted with two of the Mets' second-tier pitching prospects for the Cuban outfielder. Cespedes posted a .334 TAv while in orange and blue, adding more than 2.5 wins in roughly a third of a season for the club. Supplementing a hit-and-miss offense with a hitter of Cespedes’ caliber brought more balance to a club that already had a playoff-ready rotation.
Cespedes wasn’t the only addition. Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed and Eric O’Flaherty were added to the Mets’ bullpen via trade as well, though their performances were a mixed bag. The club also picked up Juan Uribe from the Braves, adding more depth and infield help for the last two months. Uribe saw limited action, but still managed to produce 0.8 WARP for his new club.
The Mets might not have made the biggest splash at the trade deadline this year, but they made the right one.
August 2nd – The Nationals’ Day of Reckoning
We would be remiss if we discussed how the Mets got to where they are without mentioning the collapse of the preseason favorite. Before the season the Mets got exactly zero first place votes in BP’s preseason predictions—the Nationals locking up all 45 of those. In fact, only seven of the 45 Baseball Prospectus writers polled before the season even picked the Mets to make the playoffs this year. The Nationals were the team to beat, and that’s exactly what the Mets did.
August 2nd was a turning point because it was the day the playoff odds for the two teams shifted. The Mets spent all but three days trailing the Nationals in playoff odds before August 2nd, but on that date the teams would trade places and the Mets would never look back.
Syndergaard took the mound against Jordan Zimmermann. Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda each took Zimmermann deep while Syndergaard gave up just two runs on seven hits in front of a rowdy New York crowd. Clippard came in to notch the save after Syndergaard’s eight strong innings. The Mets came out of the game 55-50, while the Nationals fell to 54-49, officially one game back in the NL East. It was the finale of a three-game sweep, striking an emotional chord that would resonate throughout the season’s final months.
The next day the Mets would pummel Miami 12-1 while the Nationals lost to a spot starter in Arizona. The directions of each team were set, as if in stone, and the Mets would never look back.
The Nationals’ spectacular collapse can’t be ignored, because as much of the Mets' success can be attributed to that as to their own maneuvers and performance. No team wins the World Series in January, but after signing Max Scherzer the Nationals were the type of favorite rarely seen at this level. Then their roster was beset by injuries and a lack of depth over the course of a 162-game war. That early August series might have been the Nationals’ Waterloo, but the attrition that preceded it is what did them in.
Ultimately, the Mets relied on young players who not only played to their potential but often exceeded it. They bolstered the roster with solid acquisitions where they could, all without selling the farm to do so. And they benefited from a little luck with the Nats' collapse, some of it under their own control. Everything broke right for a very good team.
This team was built to have a season like this. It took advantage of the opportunities that came its way, and now Alderson & Co. are on the brink of a possible World Series title. They might not have been favorites coming into the season, but we shouldn’t take that to mean that this club’s success is a total surprise either.