Feb. 17, 2018
Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series in the Past 30 Years-06 Mets
2006 was a bit of an odd year in baseball. You could make an argument that there really wasn't a heavyweight in either league that season.
Let's begin shall we? In the American League, the White Sox were probably regarded as the favorites for winning the World Series in 2005 and then they added Jim Thome for more pop to go along with Paul Konerko and Co. The Angels expected to contend. The A's were nipping at their legs. The Yankees always figured to contend but many felt like the pitching was well down, even after getting Randy Johnson in 05 as well as Carl Pavano. The Blue Jays were talked about with adding pitchers AJ Burnett and BJ Ryan to go along with Vernon Wells. The National League had the typical usual suspects of the Braves, Cardinals, Astros, and so on. But the Braves were starting to show wear & tear with not being as strong as in their heyday. The Cardinals wondered if they had enough depth on the roster. The Astros were entering the 2006 season without Roger Clemens.
And the New York Mets? Well, they were always considered a high-payroll, low success team and had been that way for a while. New York would always net that big name guy on the free agent or trade market and many would expect to just overtake Atlanta. And most of the time it would backfire. So many had that vibe of "yeah, but they struggle when it matters."
When the season began in both leagues, the Yankees were not as stout. The Red Sox weren't as strong either. Toronto was "meh" and the Angels out west were "okay." But the surprise was the AL Central with the Tigers, 3 years removed from nearly 120 losses was rolling to the best record in baseball and the White Sox nipping at their tails with the Twins not far behind.
The National League? The Cardinals, coming off of back-to-back 100-win seasons, struggled as had Houston. The Braves were reeling. The best team by a wide margin in the National League? The New York Mets.
Coupled with the Braves falling off big time and the Phillies getting off to their slow start, the Mets rolled early and often in the division. They waxed their competition with relative ease early on to a 16-8 start in April, being up 6 games on the rest of their foes.
The key reason was a big trade made in the off-season, getting slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado from the Marlins. Delgado crushed it for New York, hitting nearly .300 with 9 HR in the first half of the season. He ignited the Mets fast start as normally New York scuffled early on. But not in 2006. They got it going. And that wave never really stopped. While holding ground in May, the Mets had another nice run in June, winning 8 in a row and pretty much putting the Phillies to bed in the NL East and the Braves weren't even a thought anymore by this point. In August, the Mets had really pulled away from the competition with both a 5-game winning streak and a 7-game winning streak. The division was pretty much over at this point. So, much like other teams with big leads by September, the Mets put their ride on cruise control and only going 15-15 in September and October 1st. They were zeroed in on the playoffs.
WHY WERE THEY SO GOOD? Just a GREAT balance of an offense. Carlos Delgado got the things going but it was Carlos Beltran on offense that really sent them to the moon. Beltran, the Mets prized free agent signing before the 2005 season, completely busted out after his dull year in 2005. He hit 41 HR and a .275 average, but drew walks and his defense was excellent (although always overshadowed by the likes of Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter in that time period). Adding on, the Mets probably had the two most exciting young players in baseball in David Wright and Jose Reyes on the left side. Wright didn't have the same pop as Beltran or Delgado but hit .311 and was a doubles machine. He too could field. For Reyes, he also hit .300 and while he was no power hitter at the least, hit 19 HR and was a triples machine. He also added 64 stolen bases to his credit. He was a monster on the basepaths for Wright, Delgado, and Beltran to drive in. They weren't the only offensive guys. Jose Valentin had a career year for him as he hit .271 with 18 HR and an OPS well over .800 (the HR was down as he hit 30 two years prior with the White Sox but he was somewhat of an all-or-nothing guy prior). Paul Lo Duca, who really was more of the guy to help the rotation at catcher, was also a .300 hitter. Adding on, the Mets defense was stout across the field with the likes of Wright, Reyes, and Beltran. Off the bench, New York had a super-sub Endy Chavez, who could get on base and create havoc as well. Not to mention he was a good fielder on top of it.
The pitching, for this time period was good overall, but it was the bullpen who really made life difficult for opposing teams.. The lone starter who was consistent was Tom Glavine, the former Braves hero and Mets nemesis. He had pitched for New York since 2003 with minimal success. Numbers-wise he was not bad after his debacle of a first season in Queens and held serve for New York. Pedro Martinez had arm trouble and struggled. Orlando Hernandez was a World Series hero for the Yankees and White Sox came over and pitched decent. But the pen was where it mattered. Billy Wagner, the Mets closer was Billy Wagner (meaning he was lights-out and probably the most underrated closer in baseball history), saving 40 games and having a 2.24 ERA and 11.7 K/9 ratio (highest of his career at that point). The rest of the pen was if anything solid. The likes of Aaron Heilman, Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, and Darren Oliver, were all reliable and served their roles well. Bradford, Feliciano, and Sanchez had ERA's in the 2's while Heilman and Oliver had it in the mid 3's. And all of them supported good WHIP's on top of it.
The Mets faced off against the Dodgers, to which the mix of veterans and youngsters of the Dodgers were just no match. New York tagged Los Angeles starter Derek Lowe for 4 in just over 5 innings and held off a Dodger run late. In game 2, Glavine looked like his vintage self. shutting out the Dodgers in 6 innings for a 4-1 win. The Mets finished off LA with a 9-5 win despite having ugly outings from Steve Trachsel and Darren Oliver. It was that Greg Maddux for Los Angeles (yes, that Greg Maddux) was not vintage Greg Maddux at all, pitching only 4 innings and allowing 4 runs.
The Mets faced the Cardinals in the NLCS, and many penned the Mets to win it with ease. The Cards struggled in 2006 and weren't anything of the beasts in the previous years.
Glavine continued to go into the time machine and pitch magnificent in Game 1, going 7 innings with no runs allowed and only 4 hits. Beltran counted for both runs with a 2-run HR off Jeff Weaver. However, Game 2, the Mets bullpen fell apart with Guillermo Mota continuing his struggles in the post-season and Billy Wagner giving up 3 in the 9th in a non-save situation. The Cardinals and Mets traded wins for the next 4 games with the Cards shutting out New York and then the Mets scoring 12 the next game before the next two games were 4-2 scores, split by both teams.
Game 7 of the NLCS would be talked about for a long time of being one of the greats. You'd never think that given the starters were Jeff Suppan and Oliver Perez, but it happened. Both teams scored a run early on, but got shut down the rest of the way. The game was highlighted by an amazing catch by Chavez, robbing Scott Rolen of a 2-run HR and keeping the game tied. However, the Mets bullpen failed to keep the Cardinals at bay as Yadier Molina hit a 2-run HR off of Heilman in the 9th for a 3-1 lead. The Mets had a shot in the bottom half as the first two runners got on with singles off of Adam Wainright. However, Cliff Floyd and Jose Reyes struck out and lined out respectively. Lo Duca walked to load the bases for Beltran. And Beltran took a called 3rd strike to end the Mets season in heart-breaking fashion.
WHAT WENT WRONG? Well, Glavine aside, the Mets pitching failed in the NLCS. The bullpen was great in the regular season, but it didn't hold the job in October. Wagner had a forgettable postseason as had Heilman for giving up the Molina blast.
Adding on top of it, I think one of the things that the Mets shared with the likes of the Bash Brothers A's, the Braves teams, the Indians of the mid to late 90's, and to a lesser extent the post-2001 Yankees and even the 01 Mariners was that they knew the postseason was in the fold for them by early September. So they "tuned up" and "rested their players." I get why to avoid an injury to a key player, and there really isn't a good strategy to combat it. You have to do what you have to do. But really, the issue is there wasn't much adversity with the Mets in 2006 until the NLCS. And then they had to play catch-up and they weren't put in that situation before.
And it isn't just in baseball. All teams in pro sports have that same issue. Look at the likes of Alabama when they weren't hoisting a national title, the Patriots this year, or the 73-9 Golden State Warriors where they didn't end up on top of the world that season.
AFTERMATH: The vibe after that season was "well, we'll be back again." And you couldn't argue with that logic. Big years from the youngsters of Wright and Reyes both entering their primes. Delgado still in his prime and Beltran in his prime years as well. The Mets were to be the new NL East dynasty after the Braves gave it up. And for most of 2007 it was that way. And then, the collapse happened. The Mets had a 7 game lead on the Phillies on September 12 and being 83-62. New York went 5-12 along the way while Philadelphia went 13-4 to take the division away in one of baseball's greatest collapses down the stretch. The Mets suffered a similar fate in 2008 suffering a smaller collapse but this time in the Wild Card to Milwaukee.
Maybe playing in New York with the Yankees has something to do with it, but the Mets continued to spend spend spend. The Mets traded for Twins Ace and Cy Young candidate Johan Santana after the 2007 collapse. Santana pitched great for them in 2008 and had solid seasons after that, but arm troubles ruined him. But what made things trickier was the Mets left Shea Stadium after 2008 for the more modernized Citi Field, which many originally thought "hey, it's not Shea! Yay!" While it may have been far nicer than Shea Stadium, Citi Field played way too large as the Mets finished dead last in home runs in 2009 and their home run leader was Daniel Murphy with 12. Yes, TWELVE. Adding on injuries to Reyes and Delgado took their tolls, and many didn't look at David Wright the same again after the move to Citi as his home run total dropped to 10. The irony with Wright was his numbers were solid for the few years after (and he hit 29 HR in 2010). The Mets finished at 70-92 in 09 and the once-promising gang of players, were pretty much gone.
The Mets did rebuild however, trading Beltran away and letting Reyes walk after the 2011 season and also made trades for young prospects such as Noah Syndergaard (part of the RA Dickey deal) and drafting very well for guys like Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, and stockpiling for talent elsewhere such as Wilmer Flores. The Mets ended up back in the World Series almost 10 years after the 06 squad, but many think the lineup wasn't as stout as the Bletran/Delgado/Wright group. And some think the Mets would have won their first world title since 1986 had they beat the Cardinals that year as they would have faced the young and inexperienced Detroit Tigers.
OTHER TEAMS NEVER TO WIN A WORLD SERIES IN THE PAST 30 YEARS
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat