By: Paul DiSclafani
So what happened? How did the Mets, predicted by most baseball pundits to finish third at best, win the National League Eastern Division Title?
The turnaround was swift and devastating to the Washington Nationals, who to this day still don’t know what happened. It’s easy to point to the trades the Mets made at the deadline which obviously vitalized a moribund offense and catapulted them to a 20-8 August. But how did it happen? What events led up to the decisions made by GM Sandy Alderson? What caused him to pull the trigger on the decisions that changed the fortunes of this franchise, rescuing them and their fan base from another “meaningless” September of baseball?
In a span of 10 days, from July 24th to August 2nd, the course of the 2015 season for the Mets and Nationals in the NL East changed dramatically.
Let’s take a look at the events that led up to July 24, 2015, shall we? In the year that Back To The Future, Part 2, proclaimed that the Cubs beat Miami in the World Series (10/15/2015 to be exact), let’s get in our Delorean and get it up to 88 miles per hour…
In a season that began with dreams of a wild-card and conceding (on paper, anyway) the Division to the Nationals, the Mets put together an 11-game win streak for a 13-3 start of the season. But the offense disappeared and seemed incapable of supporting the brilliant starting pitching being provided by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. The pitching was keeping the Mets in the games, but they were floundering around .500 because they couldn’t score runs. They were last or next to last in the league in batting average, home runs and runs scored.
Mets had an 8-game losing streak at the end of June that saw their record drop under .500 (36-37), erasing all of the good will of their surprising 13-3 start. With July on the horizon and the non-waiver trading deadline looming in just a few weeks, the question of if the Mets would be buyers or sellers was still unanswered.
After getting swept by the Cubs in the first week of July at home, the 40-40 Mets headed out on a nine-game West coast road trip that would most likely answer the question for GM Sandy Alderson. Many in the media were predicting gloom and doom, figuring the Mets should be happy to come back 3-6 before the break. Instead, they took two of three from both the Dodgers and Giants, and then swept Arizona to finish the trip 7-2 and were sitting at 47-42 going into the All-Star break.
Without that stretch, maybe Alderson decides the Mets are sellers instead of buyers. Maybe Alderson doesn’t start getting calls from the other teams (or making calls) that set up the 10 days that changed the course of the NL East.
There was talk from the media and on the Mets fan pages that the only way the Mets could get the bat they needed was to trade one or two of their pitchers. The obvious candidates were Jon Niese and/or Bartolo Colon, but Syndergaard’s name started creeping into the conversations. After all, how many starting pitchers did the Mets need if they couldn’t score runs? They had to get a bat and they might have to part with one of their blue chip pitchers to get it.
The Mets came out of the break on the road, losing two out of three to St. Louis and headed into the home of the NL East leading Washington Nationals. Needing to make a statement, the Nationals beat the Mets two out of three, dropping them to 49-46 and increasing their division lead to 3 games.
Licking their wounds, the Mets headed home for a four-game series against the First Place Dodgers. Although they won two out of three in LA just a few weeks before, they didn’t have to face the Dynamic Duo of Kershaw and Grienke. They were going to see both of them during this series.
On July 23rd, the Mets were 49-46. Against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, their lineup that night consisted of John Mayberry Jr hitting cleanup with a .165 average and Eric Campbell batting fifth and hitting .176. Kershaw pitched a complete game shutout of the Mets that night, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning. Somehow the Mets managed to get three hits. Terry Collins said after the game that he wasn’t embarrassed by that lineup. Unfortunately, nobody actually asked him that question. Guess it was on his mind. The next day, Mets GM Sandy Alderson was certainly embarrassed.
DAY 1: Friday, July 24
Without David Wright (out since April) and Daniel Murphy (still on the DL), Alderson and the Mets announce the promotion of outfielder Michael Conforto, who was tearing up AA, and a trade with the Braves for infielder Juan Uribe and utility player Kelly Johnson. Conforto goes 0-4 in his MLB debut, but the entire atmosphere of the clubhouse changed knowing that Johnson and Uribe would be here tomorrow. Mets lost to the Dodgers, 7-2, dropped to 49-48, but the Nationals lost also, so they remained 3 games behind.
DAY 2: Saturday, July 25
The arrival of Johnson and Uribe energized the crowd and the team as the Mets pounded out 21 hits – a season high – in a 12-2 romp over the Dodgers. Johnson hit a long home run into the Pepsi Porch in his first AB, Conforto went 4-4 and Lucas Duda hit two home runs. Just like that, everything changed. Uribe even had a PH single. Mets get to 50 wins (50-48) and stay 3 games behind the Nationals, who beat Pittsburgh.
DAY 3: Sunday, July 26
Facing Zack Grienke and his shutout innings streak, it was Juan Uribe’s turn to make a difference as he hit a walk-off single off the wall in the 10th inning. Jacob deGrom actually outpitched Grienke who saw his innings streak stopped at 45 2/3. Mets took a 2-0 lead into the ninth, but closer Jeurys Familia blew the save – his second since the AS break. Jenrry Mejia, who returned from his 80 game suspension a few days earlier, got the win and seemed ready to resume a closer role if Familia faltered any more. With Washington losing to Pittsburgh, the 51-48 Mets were now just two games out of first.
DAY 4: Monday, July 27:
This was an off-day for the players, but GM Sandy Alderson announced a curious move, acquiring former Oakland closer Tyler Clippard to help out in the bullpen. Closer Familia had shown signs of fatigue and Mejia just hasn’t had enough work (7 games) to be anointed back into his role of closer. Quite frankly, this was such a surprise move that most media and fans questioned the need for another arm in the bullpen when the team obviously needed a big bat in the lineup. With the last place Padres (47-53) coming to Citi for three games, the Mets were going to see a team that was at least an inept as they were at the plate. These three games were huge for the Mets as they try to keep treading water in the NL East. But looming on the horizon next was a three game weekend series with the First Place Nationals.
CONTINUE WITH PART 2: The shocking news of another suspension; the trade that never was; and there IS crying in baseball.