Here's a fun fact: Half of the teams in baseball are at least fourteen games out of first place in their respective divisions. The Mets are among that hopeless group, currently residing 24½ games back of the Phillies juggernaut in the NL East, and few could blame them if they've mentally punched out for 2011.
Most of them haven't, of course. Apart from being professionals, not to mention making good money to play a game that millions of kids delightedly play for free, a number of Mets have nothing owed to them in 2012 and have to make hay now or risk unemployment (or minor league employment) next year. In a tough economy that's no small consideration.
Yet as fans we carry no such burdens. We could mail in the final three weeks of the season and nobody would bat an eye. We can watch the last couple dozen games with little to no emotional investment, and, heck, as long as you don't have a blog to write you can stop tuning in to the games altogether.
But as we rapidly approach mathematical elimination we're faced with that familiar antipodal dilemma: What outcome shall we root for? We love the mets, and winning baseball games is satisfying in the immediate, short-term sense, i.e., watching the Mets lose is frustrating and often boring and, almost invariably in retrospect, a thoroughgoing waste of time. Too, watching the Mets win is usually exciting and dramatic and in any case preferable to watching them lose. A lousy day is made better, perhaps without exception, by the Mets "putting it in the books," as it were. So there are certainly good reasons to root for the Mets in the waning days of the season.
However, taking the longview — which means looking beyond 2011 and perhaps as far ahead as 2012, 2013, or 2014 — winning a few extra games this season isn't going to mean all that much. On Opening Day 2014, will anyone care if the 2011 Mets won 72, 75, or 78 games? I doubt it, and losing a few extra games now could help those future Mets teams by securing a better pick in next June's amateur draft.
At 71-75, the Mets have the seventeenth-best record in baseball, tied with the Reds, just ahead of the 69-77 Rockies, and narrowly trailing the 72-73 Dodgers. If they finish the season no better or worse than they are now (relative to the rest of baseball), they would wind up with the thirteenth or fourteenth pick in the draft, a selection protected from compensatory loss should the Mets sign another team's highly ranked free agent.
With just sixteen games remaining in the season, though, it becomes increasingly unlikely that the Mets will shift much one way or the other. They're 4½ games ahead of the Marlins, which latter currently owns the tenth-worst record in baseball. The Mets have been known to lose seven games in the standings over a seventeen game span, but can they drop four-plus in one fewer game? Their season series with Florida has wrapped, but they do play the Braves and Phillies a few more times each, so that could be four or five losses, easy.
At all events, even if it's in their best interest to lose, I can't bring myself to do anything but root for the Mets to win. On the other hand, I feel no shame for finding a silver lining in the mounting losses. At this point in a long, pitiless season, I'm pulling for guys like Lucas Duda, Josh Thole, and Nick Evans to establish themselves. I'm also hoping for strong finishes from David Wright, Jose Reyes, and R.A. Dickey. And I want the Mets to win, because winning is more fun than losing, even if the wins don't really mean anything.
But if the losses come — and believe me, they will — I'll take solace in the fact that they probably carry with them a slightly better chance that a future Mets team will be better than it might have otherwise.