The World Series began over the weekend, which means the 2023 season is on the verge of finally concluding, and it comes not a moment too soon for Mets fans. This was an awful year for anyone pulling for the orange and blue, only somewhat salvaged by the team changing course at the trade deadline into a new direction that at least looks more promising over the long term.
So, where did it all go wrong for the 2023 Mets? Well, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific moment when this season turned, or when the proverbial “vibe shift” happened. There isn’t really one moment that stands out, but everyone might have a game or a set of games where they realized that this team just didn’t have the juice. To me, there were four games in particular that stand out as sort of inflection points in the 2023 Mets season that took me from heavy optimism to existential dread.
May 3 doubleheader at Tigers, Game 2
Some people were already worried at this point, but I wasn’t. The Mets had a pretty strong April, all things considered. Their pitching staff had fallen apart, but they had still managed a winning month and were about to get their two big starters—Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer—back from injury and suspension, respectively. They were also set to embark on a 13-game road trip against some of the worst teams in baseball, so they looked like a team primed to get right and go on a run.
And then they actually started playing those games. Their May 2 game against the Tigers was rained out, leading to a doubleheader on May 3. Joey Lucchesi would get the ball for Game 1, lining Scherzer and Verlander up for the last two games of the series against their former team.
The Mets lost Game 1 of the doubleheader when Adam Ottavino surrendered an eighth-inning go-ahead hit to Eric Haase, who would finish the year with a 42 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR, by the way. It was a frustrating loss, but not necessarily an indictment on the team overall, as the Mets had sent out their seventh starter for this one and still came one executed pitch away from winning.
Still, though, the Mets needed Scherzer to come up big in Game 2 to get them back on the right track, and he very much did not. Scherzer was whacked around for six earned runs in his return from suspension, raising his ERA to 5.56 on the year. The Mets lost the nightcap 8-1 as a result, getting swept in the doubleheader by the lowly Tigers.
With Scherzer clearly not right and the Mets unable to beat Detroit, eventually getting swept, it was clear at this point that something was not right with this group. But they still had a ton of time to figure it out.
June 4 vs. Blue Jays
Even with their extremely frustrating month of May and their 4-9 road trip against the Tigers, Rockies, Reds, and Nationals, the Mets had climbed back into respectability by the end of the month. After completing a three-game sweep of the Phillies, they sat at 30-27 on June 1. They were only 3.5 games out of the division, and still held the first Wild Card spot at the time. Their starting pitching was finally rounding into form, and the team was still very much a playoff contender with nearly 70% playoff odds per FanGraphs, even if they maybe weren’t quite as good as we thought.
The Mets welcomed in the Blue Jays for a three-game series in the first weekend of June. They dropped the first two games after they were shut out by Chris Bassitt in Game 1, and David Robertson surrendered the go-ahead RBI to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the top of the ninth inning in Game 2.
The Mets really needed to salvage the final game of this series. They went down 4-0 early, with the fourth run for the Jays coming when Francisco Alvarez sailed a backpick to second base into center field and Tommy Pham didn’t hustle after the ball in center, allowing the run to score all the way from second.
The Mets fought back to tie the game, though, thanks to solo homers by Pete Alonso, Starling Marte, and two by Pham, but they gave it back up when Buck Showalter sent Dominic Leone out to protect a tie game in the seventh and he couldn’t do it. The Mets went down with a whimper from there and lost 6-4, getting swept by Toronto.
Maybe for some people, this was just a normal loss in a bad season, but for me, this was a “Eureka!” moment. This had all started to look really familiar. The Mets were already playing poorly for most of the season, but now they were playing sloppy. Throwing errors? Lack of focus in the field? Oh yeah, I had seen this movie before. I had seen this movie so many times, in fact. I knew these Mets. Needless to say, I was now extremely skeptical of this team.
June 8 at Braves
Despite all of that, and all sense telling us that this Mets team was not particularly good, they were still .500, within 6 games of the division, and had a three-game set against the Braves to get back in it with Scherzer and Verlander set up for two of the games.
The Mets dropped the first two in embarrassing fashion, blowing leads of three runs or more in both games. Verlander toed the rubber to stop the bleeding in the series finale on June 8, and he got absolutely rocked for five runs (four earned) over just three innings. However, the Mets also put the screws to Spencer Strider for eight runs across just four innings, so they held a lead for most of the game.
The Mets led 10-6 going to the seventh. They exhausted every high-leverage relief option to win this one, but nobody could hold the fort. Robertson served up a game-tying homer to Orlando Arcia in the ninth, sending it to extras. The Mets’ offense could not score in the tenth, and since they were freshly out of good relievers, they were left to throw Tommy Hunter in the tenth, who surrendered a walk-off, three-run homer to Eddie Rosario.
This was probably the worst loss of the entire 2023 season, for a number of reasons. They blew another lead, were once again completely humiliated at the hands of the Braves, were buried in the division, and were now firmly under .500. The season was now slipping away, and their playoff odds had sunk to about 40%—a drop of nearly 30 percentage points in just a week’s time.
Emotionally, I was out at this point.
June 25 at Phillies
Things had only gotten worse by the end of June, but thanks to a weak NL Wild Card race, the Mets still had a pulse. They had a slate of games coming up against the Phillies, Brewers, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres—all teams directly ahead of them in the Wild Card race. It was still possible for them to salvage some meaningful second-half games if they could manage a nice three-week stretch against these teams.
They started that stretch with a loss on June 23 against the Phillies, but then bounced back the following day with a nice 4-2 win to set up a rubber game on Sunday. A series win against the rival Phillies could at the very least set the tone for the rest of the road trip and inch the Mets back a little closer with a lot of baseball left.
The Mets carried a 6-3 lead going into the eighth, but despite Robertson and Ottavino both having light workloads in recent days, Showalter avoided his high leverage relievers like the plague, and instead sent Josh Walker and Jeff Brigham out in the eighth to protect a three-run lead. Those two combined for a bullpen meltdown worthy of the Jerry Manuel Mets. Three walks, just one hit, a fielding error by Brett Baty, and two RBI hit-by-pitches later, and the Phillies had gone in front 7-6, and would win by that score.
It was another humiliating loss for the Mets, and it pretty much felt like the final nail in the coffin for this team. Their playoff odds dropped to 15.9% after this one, which still felt too high at the time. The Mets were now 35-42, an astonishing 15.0 games back in the division, and 8.0 games back in the Wild Card race. It was over.
Steve Cohen would hold a press conference later in the week basically admitting that the team was going to sell at the trade deadline. Even with a nice little run at the start of July, the Mets were too far back in the standings to justify going for it in any way at the deadline, and we all know what happened from there.
Ultimately, reversing the results of these four games would not have done much to save the Mets’ season in the long run, but these games, to me, represent four distinct checkpoints of the team devolving further and further in to the abyss. That said, we are now only a week or two from the start of what should be a fascinating offseason for the Mets, and we can at least look forward to that.