On July 20, 2014, the New York Mets begin play five games under .500, seven games behind the division leaders. They’ve been hot lately, winning nine of their last 12. But still, Mets fans are skeptical about how much of a run they can make. There are several teams still ahead of them, not only for the division title, but also for a Wild Card berth. It’s an uphill climb that’s reminiscent of that of the 1973 New York Mets.
On July 20, 1973, the New York Mets were 9.5 games behind the division leaders — and in dead last place in the NL East. They were 11 games under .500 and had a -32 run differential. Their circumstances were a little different. They were a solid team with a starting rotation filled with names like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Their lineup was ravaged with injuries, which devastated their outfield in particular. Cleon Jones, Don Hahn, Rusty Staub and others all missed time.
The ’73 Mets eventually found a way to piece their lineup back together, and went 42-28 the rest of the way to finish atop a weak NL East. They rode their new-found success all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, where they lost to the mustachioed (and heavily favored) Oakland A’s.
Thirty-one years later, can the New York Mets do it again? They have a young pitching staff that’s still finding itself. Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom are still getting their sea legs, while Dillon Gee and Jonathan Niese are finally putting it all together. Their bullpen is full of young, hard-throwing and sometimes unpredictable firepower. Their lineup has been enigmatic. After a slow start, they all seem to be coming around, but are still prone to an occasional shutout, the likes of which they suffered yesterday to a talented young pitcher, Tyson Ross.
As for their competition, the division-leading Atlanta Braves have a 52-44 record, while the Washington Nationals are in a virtual tie with a 52-43 record. The 1973 Chicago Cubs led their division on this date with a 52-44 record. They only won 25 games the rest of the year.
Making a run for the playoffs is possible. They’ll need help from the Braves and Nationals and other teams. But most of all, the Mets will have to win ballgames. Eighty-two wins may not be enough to get there, as it was in 1973. The Mets need to win 44 games to get to 90, which may be the magic number, unless the teams ahead of them collapse, as they did 31 years ago.