New York Mets 2012: Unfair Interleague Schedule Could Cost Them Playoff Spot
While chasing a highly competitive race to a wild card spot, the New York Mets were scheduled to play three of the strongest teams in the AL East.
This is an absurd disadvantage perhaps no more evident than on June 24, when sudden Mets star pitcher R.A. Dickey ended his wild run of one-hitters and utter dominance. And of course, the worst part was boldly clear; the streak ended against their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. Having the New York Yankees, an American League team and most feared rival in franchise history on pure statistics alone, play spoiler in June is one of the worst nightmares that a Mets fan can have.
Yet the truth may be painful. For the New York Mets (39-34), currently 3.5 GB the Washington Nationals in the NL East and only 0.5 GB the Pittsburgh Pirates for the inaugural second wild card spot, the club needs every win they can get.
Playing the powerhouse New York Yankees six times in less than a month certainly does not help that. Neither does having their intercity rival beat up on Dickey for five runs, including his first home run in over a month (May 17th), his fewest strikeout total since May 12th (three), and his most allowed runs in two months (five).
Of course, R.A. Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher. Like the pitch itself, the pitchers tend to ride streaks of highs and lows unmatched in professional sports. This is no more evident than his impressive record (11-1), WHIP (0.91) and ERA (2.31). His innings pitched (99.0 IP) was in the top 10 in all of baseball. His strikeout percentage (27.5 percent) was in the top five, and his 2.6 wins above replacement was the sixth best among all pitchers in baseball.
Dickey is currently leading the New York Mets to a NL Wild Card spot on the strength of a potential Cy Young candidacy, in which a likely NL All-Star starting pitcher spot could be waiting for him.
Behind his 11 wins, the Mets are in the thick of a playoff race as competitive as any in professional sports.
Also within striking distance of the two wild card sports include: the San Francisco Giants (40-33), the Pittsburgh Pirates (38-33), the Atlanta Braves (38-34), the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals (38-35) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (37-35).
The difference: the strength of schedule, competition and parity between these divisions.
When the New York Mets play a divisional rival, they are forced to go against an emerging successful Washington Nationals (41-29), wild card competition in the Atlanta Braves, a young and competitive Miami Marlins team (34-38) and an always-feared-despite-their-record Philadelphia Phillies squad (34-40) that still has a wildly impressive pitching staff.
But where the New York Mets suffered the most is the interleague schedule that they drew by being an east coast team.
Since June 8th, the Mets only drew games from all three of the top teams in the AL East, which is highly regarded as the strongest division in the MLB. In this time, these were among the only teams that the New York franchise played not named the Cincinnati Reds.
After getting swept by the New York Yankees, they responded with a vehement and passionate sweep against the Tampa Bay Rays. But by this time, the squad was getting tired. A Cincinnati Reds team catching fire then swept them back.
The theme continued once more, as the New York Mets responded with a series sweep over a suddenly talented Baltimore Orioles team, which lead into a first-game victory over the New York Yankees.
After dropping two consecutive games against the Bronx Bombers, including the rare, poor Dickey performance, the Mets' record in June since interleague play began fell to seven wins and eight losses in the last 15 games.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals were easily beating the Kansas City Royals (31-39) and the Minnesota Twins (29-42), and the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants where able to beat up on the Oakland A’s (35-38) and the Seattle Mariners (31-43).
The Diamondbacks were 10-5. The Pirates were 9-6. The Cardinals were 8-7. Their interleague schedules were an advantage, a break from the usual tenacity replaced with lowly teams from the opposing league.
The New York Mets are experiencing one of their most hyped seasons in recent history, and are arguably the most beloved team for the club since the run at the playoffs in 2006.
Fans in Queens finally have something substantial to believe in, amidst all senses of improbability, yet a tough interleague schedule may have done more damage to the run of the season than anything else.
What do you think of interleague play?
They’ll have time to rebound from recent struggles, of course. It’s a long season, and there’s a series against the Cubs underway to remedy the scores.
Then comes the series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, who own the best record in baseball. Like many other Los Angeles sports fans, I will be in attendance and watching to see how this series unfolds. As a Mets fan, I just hope they can put their tough interleague luck behind them and continue to play ball the way that they’ve played all season: cohesively and as a team playing for winning baseball.
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