The Return of LOLMets
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What a franchise. Since the early 2000s, the Mets have never failed to disappoint their fans with fragile teams and heartbreaking collapses. This year was something different. Despite their $353 million payroll, the highest of any franchise in the league, this year’s Mets proved how special they were by falling apart completely in just one month of play. Coming off of a nail-biting wild card loss in the previous season, owner Steve Cohen made it clear that he wanted to contend. But these Mets just didn’t.
The offseason was critical for the Mets, and they made good use of it. They immediately put star reliever Edwin Diaz on a five-year contract worth $102 million and kept franchise-face outfielder Brandon Nimmo in town with an eight-year contract worth $162 million. With pitching as their primary woe last season, they reeled in ace pitcher Justin Verlander to join Max Scherzer in a blockbuster lineup that had every MLB team chattering. Would this be the Mets’ year? ESPN said it was very possible, ranking the team third in the MLB going into the 2023 season.
The Baseball World Cup was the first big hit for the Mets. During the celebration after Team USA’s major win against the Dominican Republic, Diaz suffered a major injury to his knee, causing him to be ruled out for the 2023 season. Though he is now closer to a healthy threshold, passing major health tests and pitching again, his loss left huge questions for the Mets early on.
More questions started to surface when Verlander and Scherzer started their seasons, both underperforming significantly. Verlander’s 3.15 ERA was okay at best, but certainly not worth the price the team paid for him. And Scherzer’s 4.03 ERA was beyond unreasonable for a pitcher of his caliber. As a result, both pitchers who were supposed to raise the Mets’ pitching rotation to the highest tier it had ever reached were dealt away, and Cohen opted for a major rebuild.
Despite the pitching struggles, one would hope that the lineup of stars would have managed to get on base and make some games winnable. Shockingly, no. Despite sporting some of the finest hitters in baseball, including first baseman Pete Alonso, shortstop Jeff McNeil, catcher Fransisco Alvarez, and outfielder Mark Canha, the Mets show up nowhere on the hitting leaderboards. The highest-ranked Met in terms of batting average is Nimmo, at position 51. Across the board, these Mets are decidedly mediocre. In a sport where you need at least one player to be better than average to have a good shot at the playoffs, the Mets have none. They’re not playing abysmally or tanking out the rest of the season either, just hurtling along like a tumbleweed with no destination and no motive.
This year is yet another display of the Mets’ antics, of the bad luck that seems to haunt the team and prevent them from finding a path to victory. They have made this exact showing before, in the 1992 MLB season where the team put together an all-star cast including first baseman Eddie Murray, second baseman Willie Randolph, ace pitcher Bret Saberhagen, and notorious third baseman and outfielder Bobby Bonilla, who the Mets are still paying for today. Sports journalists Bob Klapisch and John Harper wrote a book about this team, calling them “the worst team money could buy.” In 2002, it was the same game with different names, with the franchise spending record amounts of money and yet achieving nothing of note.
The 2007 MLB season was the birth of the LOLMets meme, based on their incredible collapse before the season’s end. Leading their division by seven games with 17 left to play, the Mets managed to lose 12 while the Phillies won 13, cementing Philadelphia’s place as NL East champions, while the Mets were left to rot. In the 2022 season, they seemed to tell the same exact story. Racing against the Atlanta Braves for the NL East title, they fell just short when the Braves swept the Mets in their final series of the year. Despite having 101 wins, a feat that would usually guarantee a team in their division, the Mets had to fight for their playoff spot in a wild-card series against the Padres. They had the advantage; all three games were at Citi Field and a rabid home fanbase was on their side. But in Game 3 of the series, their bats fell silent and the Padres knocked them out.
The Mets have suffered loudly on a countless number of occasions. But the quietest injustice ever dealt to them came in the 2020 MLB season. In terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus, a stat that approximates a team’s hitting ability by their era, the 2020 New York Mets were the fifth-best hitting team in baseball history, beaten only by the 1927, 1930, and 1931 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees and the 2019 Houston Astros. Their offense should have won a World Series, and yet they found themselves at the bottom of the NL East. How is that possible? Well, given the shorter season and thus a smaller sample size, they lost on luck. They were scoring runs in close losses and bludgeoning teams in some of their games. The problem was, those nail-biting losses could have been wins if the Mets got their home runs after their hits. Instead, these Mets left 445 runners on base in just 60 games, averaging more than seven a game. Very few people realize how good the 2020 Mets could have been if only they had had luck on their side.
So, what does this say for the Mets? They have been the victim of bad luck many times, but other teams have had worse. Most famously, it took the Chicago Cubs 107 years to win the World Series. Why should the Mets complain about these unlucky stints when they won a World Series in 1986? Well, the franchise has become a joke to the baseball world. No matter what talent they bring into town, what prospects they bring through their ranks, and how many wins they get in the regular season, the Mets will always find a way to squander it away. This year, to these fans, is nothing new.