As the morning of trade deadline day arrived, the Mets had just continued their winning streak with a thrilling extra inning victory, backed by a superb performance on the mound by Noah Syndergaard and back-to-back home runs in the eleventh inning from Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto. Marcus Stroman was already a Met and tweeting about how excited he was to join the rotation. Syndergaard was saying that he had a feeling he was staying. And he was, much to his delight. And so was Zack Wheeler. For better or worse, the Mets have solidified their commitment to try to make a run this year and compete in 2020.
And I found myself feeling a strange feeling that I have not felt for most of this season. I found myself feeling a sense of belief and optimism. I found myself buying in to the 2019 New York Mets.
I am a scientist by training. I am acutely aware that these feelings are not rational. I am aware that the Mets need to play close to .600 ball the rest of the way to even reach 85 wins, which is probably not even enough to propel them to the postseason. I am aware that many other National League teams have to play poorly in conjunction with the Mets keeping up their torrid pace in order for them to continue to climb in the standings and play meaningful games in September. I am aware that the Mets are in the midst of a lighter part of the schedule and that this house of cards could easily come crashing down the moment they start playing teams with records above .500 again. I am aware that things about this team are still incredibly flawed, like their bullpen, pitching depth behind their top five starters, and their defense.
Nonetheless, during this winning streak, the Mets have seen their playoff odds rise from single digits to just over 20%, according to Fangraphs. As I sat at my desk, wondering if I was really going to let myself have hope about the 2019 season, I couldn’t help but look back at the playoff odds graphs from the 2016 season. I was not about to delude myself quite enough to draw 2015 comparisons, knowing that there is no Yoenis Cespedes coming this season. But consider this: the 2016 New York Mets’ playoff odds were 6.7% on August 19. And of course, the Mets have had other teams in their storied, quirky franchise history, who have overcome even more improbable odds. This is, after all, the 50th anniversary of one such Mets team. Results of that 2016 Wild Card game notwithstanding, my inner dialogue affirmed that, despite their flaws, I would bet on the Mets in a one-game playoff over almost any team in baseball because of the strength at the top of the rotation. And as long as you punch your ticket to the postseason, anything can happen, right? Ya gotta believe, I suppose.
But with believing comes a price. With getting invested again after having already resigned myself to another lost season, I open myself up to heartbreak. And if there is anything the Mets are good at, it’s breaking our hearts – over and over and over and over again. So why do I find myself buying in, despite my better judgement? Why do any of us do this to ourselves? The answer, in part, is because humans are wired to do this. Blind faith and optimism bias are in our biology and there is almost no place where it manifests more obviously than in sports fandom. It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, as they say.
So, to quote a certain famous film that is a favorite topic of discussion around these parts: never tell me the odds. LFGM.