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The Mets' 2015 season brought unexpected joy, heartbreak

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The Mets came into the season as potential Wild Card contenders. They made it to the World Series.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When Sandy Alderson took over the Mets' front office, it was clear the team wouldn't contend for at least a little while. Bogged down by some terrible contracts and a ownership's financial crisis, the Mets had to retool in more ways than one. They needed young talent, and they needed to shed payroll, preferably as quickly as possible. The 2011 Mets weren't supposed to contend, and they did not.

Things got worse in 2012 and stayed the same in 2013, but expectations had begun to rise. By 2014, it seemed like the team should at least be a Wild Card contender, but it wasn't. The Mets finished that season with a 79-83 record, a five-win improvement upon what it had done in each of the previous two seasons, but well short of anything resembling contention.

Without having gone into a full fire sale, Alderson's front office had made moves looking towards the long-term success of the franchise, even if it kept saying publicly that it was attempting to strike a balance between near-term relevance and success down the road. In 2011, the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants for Zack Wheeler. In 2012, they sent Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and backup catcher Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays for Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra, and John Buck. And in 2013, they sent Buck and outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Pirates for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black.

Those weren't the Mets' only trades over that span—see Angel Pagan for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez—but they were the ones that figured to help at some point. By the time 2015 came around, Mets fans were impatient, more than ready for their team to contend. Expectations were still somewhat tempered. The preview popular opinion was that the Mets might contend, but the Nationals had the division wrapped up before the season started. Perhaps the Mets would fend for a Wild Card spot. It was the sort of thing Mets fans had been telling themselves on an annual basis, but it at least started to sound a little more believable. The Opening Day rotation featured Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom—both excellent—and Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz might not be long for the minors.

There were major concerns, too. The rest of the Opening Day rotation consisted of Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and Bartolo Colon. Wilmer Flores was slated to play shortstop, even though he hadn't played the position professionally in years. The bullpen wasn't a certainty, even with Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia in it, Curtis Granderson and David Wright weren't at their best in 2014, and the biggest addition of the offseason was Michael Cuddyer. Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin were both gone for the season because of Tommy John surgery.

These go to eleven

Long before Sandy Alderson coined the term "Panic City," there was some unrest among Mets fans about the team's decision to open the season with Bartolo Colon on the mound opposite the Nationals and Max Scherzer. But the Mets won that game and took two of three from their division rivals to start the year. They followed up that promising series with back-to-back losses to the Braves, but they didn't lose again for nearly two weeks after that.


Photo: H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets won their series finale against the Braves in Atlanta and came back to New York for their first home stand of the season. They hosted the lowly Phillies and Marlins and took full advantage, winning three against the former and four against the latter. And with an eight-game winning streak in hand, the Mets swept the Braves in three games to extend the streak to eleven.

At the conclusion of that sweep, the Mets were 13-3 and had a 4.5-game lead in the division and the best record in baseball. It was only April 23, but as Ted Berg pointed out, the Mets were very likely to make the playoffs because of their outstanding start to the season. On top of increasing their playoff odds significantly—Baseball Prospectus had them jumping from 36 percent on April 11 to 68 percent on April 27—the Mets made April baseball addictive and exciting. People were proudly sporting Mets gear in public in April, which felt foreign after the near-decade of non-contention the team had been through.

Of course, not everything was perfect, even after one of the best winning streaks in franchise history. David Wright had left the third game of the eleven-game streak—which happened to be Matt Harvey's first start back in Queens since his Tommy John surgery—with a hamstring injury. That game was a circus all around. Harvey wasn't at his most dominant, but he was good enough, he plunked Chase Utley, and the Mets won, all in front of one of the more raucous crowds in Citi Field's history.


Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

At the time, it wasn't obvious that Wright would be out for the majority of the regular season. Even a two-week stint on the disabled list seemed a little unsettling. And Wright wasn't the only player lost to injury during the winning streak. On the same day, Jerry Blevins suffered a broken left forearm, which wound up ending his season, and Travis d'Arnaud was hit by a pitch that broke his right pinkie. And before all of that, Jenrry Mejia was scratched from closing on Opening Day because of a sore elbow. A few days later, he was suspended for 80 games.

The winning streak came to an end in the Bronx, as the Mets dropped the first of three against the Yankees and won just one of the other two games in that series. They took just one of three from the Marlins after that and one of four from the Nationals, but at the end of the day on May 3, they still had a 3.5-game lead in the National League East.

The lull

Things didn't go nearly as smoothly through the rest of May, as that 3.5-game lead disappeared. The Mets finished the month a half-game out of first place, thanks in large part to an offense that just couldn't hit. As a team, the Mets hit .234/.296/.364 and scored just 95 runs, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the third-worst run total in the month.

There was a significant bright spot in early May: Syndergaard was called up for his major league debut. After a confounding season in Triple-A Las Vegas in 2014, the hard-throwing 22-year-old got off to a fantastic start at the level to start the year. So when Dillon Gee hit the disabled list with a groin strain, he got the call. Like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom, he didn't go back to the minors after that.

But it was during the month of May that Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a back condition that called into question the rest of the 2015 season, if not the rest of his baseball career. There were countless minor updates over the next few months, including the details of the insurance on his contract, but Wright wasn't playing baseball anytime soon.

Things only got worse for the offense in June. The May stats weren't good, but the June ones were even worse. As a team, the Mets hit .227/.290/.358. Their 81 wRC+ that month was the third-worst mark in baseball, and they scored just 84 runs, the fourth-worst total in the game. In the middle of the month, they lost seven games in a row. They got Travis d'Arnaud back, but only briefly, as he suffered a hyper-extended elbow and went back on the disabled list. The Nationals hadn't run away with the division, though, so the Mets were still 3.5 games out of first place at the end of June.

Through most of the month of July, they were treading water within the division, never dropping more than 4.5 games out of first place, but never getting closer than two games back until the final week of the month.

The turnaround

On Friday, July 24, the Mets placed Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list and called up Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton. Conforto was the Mets' first-round pick in 2014 and made it to the big leagues faster than any other recent Mets draft pick. Conforto wasn't the Mets' only move that day, either, as the team acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves in a trade that sent minor league pitchers John Gant and Robert Whalen to Atlanta. Three days later, the Mets traded for Tyler Clippard.

After beating the Padres on July 28, the Mets were just one game back of the Nationals, but Jenrry Mejia, who had just recently returned from his first suspension, was suspended again, this time for 162 games. During their game the following night, major news broke: The Mets had traded Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores to the Brewers for center fielder Carlos Gomez. Flores found out during the game, while he was still playing, and cried on the field. Everyone watching couldn't understand why he was still in the game, subjected to playing baseball while clearly a wreck. But the trade never actually happened, as the Mets cited Gomez's health as their reason not to make the deal.

The Mets lost that night, and the next afternoon, the team suffered about as bad a loss as a team could suffer in the regular season. With a 7-1 lead going into the seventh inning, Bobby Parnell—who was entrusted with more important innings than he should have been since he clearly wasn't right—and Hansel Robles combined to allow four runs. But the Mets took that 7-5 lead into the ninth inning. Jeurys Familia recorded two quick outs before the umpires called for a rain delay, and nearly an hour later, Familia was asked to pitch again. He blew the lead, the game went back into a rain delay, and when the game finally resumed, the Mets promptly lost.


Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

And then everything got better.

The Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes minutes before the trade deadline on July 31. That night, before Cespedes arrived, they got d'Arnaud back from the disabled list and beat the Nationals on a walk-off solo home run off the bat of Wilmer Flores as he led off the bottom of the twelfth inning. Citi Field went nuts.

It stayed that way for the rest of the weekend, too. The Mets beat the Nationals again the following night in another one-run game to pull within one game of a tie for first place. And on that Sunday night, on national television, the Mets scored five runs in the third inning in that span of approximately sixty seconds, Noah Syndergaard was brilliant for eight innings, and the Mets completed a sweep. Officially, it put them in a tie for first place. Unofficially, that was the day they took over for good.

The Mets rattled off four more wins a row to take the lead in the division. Their offense did obscene things throughout August. Cespedes raked, and Wright made his long-awaited return and hit a bomb against the Phillies in his first at-bat. Cuddyer tore the cover off the ball for a brief period after returning from his disabled list stint, too. The team traded for Eric O'Flaherty, who turned out to not be any good, and Addison Reed, who turned out to be quite good. By the time the month was over, the Mets had a 6.5 game lead in the National League East.

The team slipped up a bit heading into Labor Day weekend, as the Marlins twice beat them in walk-off fashion in Miami. Heading into Labor Day itself, when New York was set to begin a three-game series in Washington, D.C., the Mets' lead over the Nationals was 4.0 games. They did it again, though, sweeping the Nationals in dramatic fashion.

The Mets won five more games in a row after that, and despite some of the flashbacks Mets fans were having to collapses of Mets teams long past, things were just fine through the rest of September. On September 26, they beat the Reds to clinch their first National League East title since 2006.

They played out the string of the regular season from there, getting no-hit on the final weekend of the season by Max Scherzer. That wasn't the first time they had been no-hit in 2015, either, as Giants pitcher Chris Heston did it against them back when things weren't going well at all. But how a team finishes the regular season going into the playoffs doesn't matter when it comes to playoff success, and the Mets had plenty of that.

Playoffs

It's pretty intimidating to go into a series when the opposing team could realistically start Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in four out of five games, and that's what happened as the Mets took on the Dodgers. In a high-intensity, see-saw series, the Mets prevailed in five games.

That earned them a National League Championship Series appearance against the Cubs, who had beaten the Mets in all seven games the teams played in the regular season. The Mets were a different team back then, though, and they swept the Cubs in the series and made it look pretty easy in the process. The 2015 Mets were going to the World Series.


Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

And that's when the heartbreak happened. It came much later in the year than usual, and it's tough to complain about a season that went so, so well and lasted as long as it did. But the Mets led several games late and only won once against the Kansas City Royals. The season came to an end as the Royals won Game 5 at Citi Field, one of the games that the Mets led until very late and ultimately lost. The highlight of the World Series was undoubtedly the game the Mets won, during which David Wright hit a home run and was the star of the game.

By no means did 2015 feel like the team's last chance to win it all, but getting that close and coming up short made the season bittersweet. There was so much to enjoy, particularly from the end of July through the end of October. 2015 should go down as one of the better years in Mets history, but at the very end, it hurt.