While I openly mock the sentiment that the Mets lack some sort of "killer instinct," I understand it. Watching hit after hit fall in with the bases empty and then a series of double plays and strikeouts with the bases loaded seems inexplicable. The whole ordeal recalls a great Joe Posnanski quote JoshNY posted about a month ago, that is worth revisiting:
"I think that this human search for pattern is especially prevalent in baseball. What is the whole concept of "clutch hitting" but our minds searching for a pattern and a reason? This mediocre hitter comes through in the clutch a few more times than his overall numbers would suggest and our brain cannot help but insist that he has some sort of superpower and keen focus that makes him better when it counts. This great hitter fails in the clutch situation a few times more than his overall numbers would suggest and our brain cannot help but feel that he is lacking some sort of internal fortitude. Our minds simply do not deal well with what author Paul Auster called the music of chance. We need to see patterns. It’s in our DNA."
I think the need for pattern explains many of the reactions from Mets fans these days. At one ridiculous extreme is the sentiment that Victorino>Beltran because Victorino recently won a World Series. More subtly, the attempt to blame one thing on the team's struggles, such as "clutch hitting" or "the rotation after Johan" represents a similar fallacy. While I don't deny that either of those things are a problem (they certainly are), the idea that one or the other is the "primary" problem is a failure of the imagination. Mets fans shouldn't ask which weakness is more worrisome, but to what extent each is a weakness and how they can be corrected.
In many ways, this mentality has been the fundamental shortcoming of the Omar Minaya regime. Why were the results in 2008 largely the same as 2007? The process had not changed: assume the team would perform exactly the same the next season if left alone, identify one weakness and address it. In 2007, they failed to realize how much had gone right the year before, specifically in the bullpen, and got caught off-guard when their luck swung the other way. In 2008, the weakness was the starting pitching. The Mets brought in Johan, not recognizing that Moises Alou was not a dependable solution for left field. Scarily enough, this past offseason feels like exactly the same thing: finally addressing the bullpen, without realizing that their young, overworked, and rehabbing rotation might not be all that dependable, especially in the early going. But I digress.
The sentiment that the team lacks some intangible desire also seems to come from a more basic relationship to those guys on our TV screens. The Mets don't look like they care. You just spent an entire offseason hypothesizing the teams' success, earnestly hoping for a 20-0 start, but they haven't won, and don't look nearly as pissed as you. When David Wright pops out with the bases loaded he looks on, mostly disinterested, packing his batting gloves in his helmet. It's not that he doesn't care. He's just a professional. David knows the season is long and, in a game based mostly on patience and seizing inevitable opportunities, having a temper and wildly hacking next time up would be a disaster. Don't ever doubt he cares: since he graduated high school, his sole professional goal has been to hit for the New York Mets.
I know Carlos Beltran's non-slide looks terrible. It was. Carlos Beltran, however, is one of the smartest baserunners of all time. Similarly, David Wright is a great hitter, those runners left on base will eventually come home, and John Maine is still recovering from shoulder surgery. I've always liked the baseball simulation game Out of The Park 9, because you can hit the "finish today" button 50 times in a row, without having to hear the plethora of irrational thoughts that come with too much time to think about too little. Starting a season 6-9 doesn't look nearly as bad when you can peek ahead and see that you're 45-30 in a few months. I can't promise anything, but barring Jerry Manuel nuking the rotation, the Mets should be in it.