Tight division race? Collapse? They're not the same
This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Don’t call it a collapse.
Seriously, don’t call it a collapse.
When the Mets lost 12 of their final 17 games in 2007 to miss out on the playoffs, they began that stretch with a 99.8 percent chance of qualifying, according to Baseball Prospectus odds at the time. Once on pace for 93 victories, the Mets finished with only 88. The Phillies wound up taking the division with a .549 winning percentage, the lowest of any NL East champion in a 19-year span. The opportunity for the 2007 Mets was wide open. They collapsed.
This year, the situation is completely different. Yes, the Mets surrendered a 10.5-game divisional lead in a little more than three months following Tuesday's defeat, losing sole possession of first place for the first time since April 11. Yes, they became one of eight teams in the divisional era to build and then lose a double-digit lead in the standings. But it wasn’t through much fault of their own. All the Mets did to lose their advantage was play .600 ball, going 51-34. It was the sixth-best record in the Majors over that stretch for a team that remains on pace to finish with the second-best record in franchise history.
The Braves, during the same span, went 62-24, good for a .721 winning percentage. No, this hasn’t been a case of the Mets collapsing. It’s been a case of a defending World Series champion playing at an elite level for three-plus months, and the Mets -- predicted by many coming into the season to finish second to the Braves -- struggling to keep pace. It’s a case of perhaps two of the three best National League teams happening to play in the same division.
"At the end of the day, the Braves are a good team," Mets third baseman Eduardo Escobar said. "You have to give a team like that credit. It’s not that we haven’t had the results. It’s also that they’ve played well."
That’s not to suggest the Mets should be unconcerned. Max Scherzer’s injury, combined with minor aches and pains for several other rotation members, will make the final four weeks of this season a tougher road to tread. The offense has disappeared on many nights since the All-Star break, and the Mets have yet to prove that their relative inactivity at the Trade Deadline -- particularly with regards to the bullpen -- was the correct strategy.
New York may still recover, dominate its easy September schedule and claim its first division title since 2015.
And if they don’t? The answers will probably have a lot more to do with the Braves’ superlative play than with the Mets’ own shortcomings.