In that sense, this year has made for an all-too-familiar new chapter for the Mets franchise, which has earned a reputation for hapless floundering since joining the MLB in 1962. But the disappointment of such a return to form is made more acute by the sense that this team could be something special if only they could play: Three years ago, they made the World Series and appeared poised for long-term contention.
The intervening seasons have been a study in frustrated potential, as struggles with health and disciplinary action have often overshadowed periods of promising play. Now, as the team enters the off-season early again, questions linger: Are the Mets cursed? Can all their troubles be boiled down to bad luck? Or is there something more fundamental, and more insidious, keeping the team down?
Just five months ago, the Mets’ prospects looked very different. The team opened the season with an 11–1 record, prompting the media and skeptical fans to wonder if they could really be as good as they seemed after falling 15 games short of the playoffs in 2017. Some wondered if the team was returning to the heights of its miraculous 2015 season—or if it had gotten even better.
In 2015, the stars appeared to be aligning for the franchise to achieve lasting success. The Mets had four promising young starters on their pitching staff and a fifth recovering from Tommy John surgery. It appeared they would soon be able to field a starting rotation with a median age of 25, two All-Star appearances and a National League Rookie of the Year award already under their collective belt, and the ability to regularly throw 95-plus-mph pitches every day of the week. John Smoltz, a member of the legendary 1990s Atlanta Braves pitching staff that led the team to five World Series in 10 years, said in July 2015 that the Mets rotation was “way better. They’ve got more talent than we could ever have.” Behind those promising starting pitchers, some hot hitters, a skilled closer, and the newly acquired All-Star Cespedes, the Mets ended their playoff drought with flair and made a run all the way to the World Series.
The magic of the Mets’ 2015 season
But even that season was shadowed by bad fortune. Mere weeks after opening day, the team captain and seven-time All-Star, David Wright, was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The spring and summer saw a slew of other injuries beset the team, and in the second round of the playoffs, the second baseman Ruben Tejada’s leg was broken in a controversial play that engendered a league-wide rule change.
In the bright light of victory, those setbacks were easier to swallow, but they became increasingly debilitating as the team failed to live up to its potential in ensuing seasons. A relief pitcher was suspended for life after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the third time in a year. Young players didn’t develop into hoped-for stars. The team’s closer was suspended in connection with domestic-violence allegations; not long after coming back, he was diagnosed with an arterial clot requiring immediate shoulder surgery. Countless players missed time with injuries. In 2016, the team netted a wild-card spot, but lost in its one-game face-off. In 2017, it never came close to the playoffs.