Baseball is weird. It’s easy to miss the forest of a season through its many trees. There are 162 of them, and that’s not counting the springtime bloom, or if you’re fortunate enough, the October foliage. But once that forest is sown? The bigger picture emerges and the previous six months are either deemed a success or a failure, despite all the micro-successes and micro-failures that dot each team’s day-to-day and inning-to-inning, shaping the course of their season. Baseball is a sport of hundreds and thousands of moments, inflection points — the trees — that are forgotten about as soon as it becomes a sport about averages and cumulative totals — the forest. Big, sweeping, comprehensive numbers yielded from moments that suddenly don’t matter at all. Baseball is all trees, then it’s all forest.
This is a function of the sport’s calendar. Baseball is present, almost to a fault. With a game nearly every day for six months, there’s little time to come up for air and take stock of the Big Picture. Discourse caroms between creature-comfort minutia like bullpen management, moonshot home runs, double-digit-strikeouts, triple-digit pitch speeds, bang-bang plays at the plate, overcooked overshifts and underthought intentional walks. Sure, unicorns like Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge will give us no choice but to put their current feats into historical context (baseball also loves history, you know, just as an FYI), but the conversation doesn’t feel weighed down by tedious, unsolvable, meaningless NBA-esque debates about legacy or era dominance. I love the NBA, but there’s a league that could stand to live in its present moment a little more.
Thursday night’s Mets-Braves game was one of those all-trees, no-forest nights. The two division rivals kicked off a five-game series, separated by just 3.5 games at the top of the NL East. A back-of-the-rotation pitching matchup that still somehow featured two of the three winningest pitchers in the National League in Cookie Carrasco and Kyle Wright. These teams are good, and 38,000 (more or less) New Yorkers in the stands on a preposterously thick early-August night in Queens knew they were worth the price of admission.
Buck Showalter watched a five-run Mets lead shrink to a two-run Mets lead by the eighth inning and felt it necessitated early duty for his closer, Edwin Diaz. After three quick outs on 11 pitches, Showalter brought Diaz back out for the ninth. All trees, no forest. I, too, was concerned only with the very next tree. Diaz worked his way through an uncharacteristically laborious ninth before coaxing Orlando Arcia into a game-ending check-swing groundout. The Mets won the series opener, 6–4. They were 67–38, now with a 4.5-game lead in the NL East. A one-game jump that felt a lot bigger in spirit than the nominal difference suggested.
I was too deep in the trees and it had me emotionally depleted. I wanted to see the forest.
At 67–38 through 105 games, the Mets are on pace for 103 wins. That would be second in franchise history only to the 108-win 1986 Mets. They won the World Series that year, again, you know, just so you know.
Even just 100 wins would put them apace with the 1969 World Series champion Mets and the 1988 NL East champion Mets.
The Mets can’t go .500 the rest of the way because there are 57 games left, and that’s just math. But let’s say they go 28–29 the rest of the way. They’d finish with 95 wins, which would still be the sixth-winningest season in franchise history, ahead of the 2015 National League champion Mets and 2000 National League champion Mets.
Put simply, this could be the second-most successful Mets regular season of all time. Hell, their remaining schedule is pretty forgiving. It could be the most successful Mets regular season of all time.
This isn’t to say that the 2022 Mets will win the World Series because they’re on pace to win almost as many regular-season games as the 1986 Mets, who won the World Series. Or that they’ll win the pennant, or even the Division Series, or more grimly, their division. We’ve got some time. I know that’s not how this works.
What I am saying is that too often we judge seasons based on whether or not our favorite team won the championship. And while World Series are won in October, seasons are experienced from April to September. I need to commit this season to memory in real time, while it’s happening, because this doesn’t happen very often for the Mets. You saw the numbers above: This is as historically rare a season as it gets in Flushing.
The way the 2015 season ended will haunt the orange and blue part of my brain forever. I still watch highlights of Jeurys Familia’s quick-pitch or Matt Harvey going back out for the ninth and hope for different outcomes. It sucks. It still doesn’t take away from how fun that late-season and postseason run was, and having those memories sure beats the alternative of not having those memories. Memories of a championship parade would have been nice too. Fans of every other team in the NL East who have lived as long as I have have gotten to celebrate at least one. Maybe ours is coming.
If it doesn’t, the trees are still pretty and forest is already lush.