NEW YORK -- The New York Mets won the National League pennant a year ago. This time, they ended up getting ousted in the wild-card game.
Yet the 2016 Mets season should be viewed with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
Decimated by injuries, the Mets stood two games under .500 and 5½ games out of the second wild-card spot after a loss Aug. 19 at San Francisco. Yet they ended up posting the best record in the majors the remainder of the season at 27-13, despite starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz all ultimately succumbing to season-ending surgeries and Zack Wheeler missing a second full season with a slow recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Seasons are not judged strictly by won-loss records or by whether they end in a championship. The fact that the Mets kept fighting is a testament to manager Terry Collins’ leadership and the players’ resolve. It marked only the second time in franchise history the Mets reached the postseason in consecutive years (also 1999 and 2000).
“They're hurting, but there's no reason to be,” Collins said. “I mean, they were written off so many times this summer, and yet they kept fighting back. I said the other day, you've got to have special people and special character to play in this town and in this environment, and that’s in that room. So they’re down, which they should be. I mean, it’s human nature. They’re baseball players. They were here to win. They wanted to win.”
If anyone told you months ago that Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Gabriel Ynoa would be making meaningful September starts, you would have figured something had gone terribly awry with the season. Yet the Mets had a late-season surge and then held off the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to earn the top wild-card spot and home-field advantage in the winner-take-all game.
The Mets managed to avoid the type of 2007 and 2008 flops that haunted the franchise for nearly a decade thanks to resolve and shrewd in-season acquisitions. Rene Rivera, James Loney, Jose Reyes, Kelly Johnson and Fernando Salas -- all of whom were obtained in-season -- had positive impacts. Jay Bruce, although disappointing for much of the two months after his acquisition from the Cincinnati Reds, did awaken during the final week of the season to potentially foreshadow a better 2017.
Make no mistake: There are serious challenges going forward for the Mets.
Noah Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Wednesday, proving a worthy adversary for Bumgarner. Yet Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), deGrom (ulnar nerve) and Matz (bone spur) will be coming off surgeries in spring training. Wheeler has not appeared in the majors since 2014 because of complications in his return from Tommy John surgery. Syndergaard also has a bone spur in his pitching elbow, which the Mets have said will not need to be surgically removed (but let’s see). That hyped quintet of young pitchers has never all been in the rotation at the same time.
Meanwhile, the Mets went 72-54 in games started by Yoenis Cespedes this season. That means they were six games under .500 in games he did not start. If Cespedes uses his opt-out clause and departs, the Mets will be lacking their most lethal bat in 2017.
There’s also uncertainty about what contribution David Wright will provide going forward, even though he offered a favorable report about the surgically repaired ruptured disk in his neck after the elimination Wednesday. The bottom line is the lower-back spinal stenosis that Wright had been dealing with before the neck issue arose is not going away, even if the captain feels like he has a routine to manage it.
“The job our guys did to get to this point, to be in this game, is unbelievable,” Collins said Wednesday. “When you lose three-fifths, obviously, of one of the best rotations in the game -- you lose two guys or three guys out of the middle of your lineup for a long period of time -- to sit here where we are today, I’m tremendously proud.”