The addition of an extra wild card team in each league has made August relevant for many baseball teams used to playing out the string by late summer. But for those teams that aren’t a part of the expanded playoff race, the focus has turned to preparing for 2013, while coming up with creative ways to keep fans walking through the turnstiles over the last several weeks of this season.
In this regard, perhaps no team faces as unique a challenge as the New York Mets. The Mets were expected to endure another losing season but raised hopes during an eventful first half in which ace Johan Santana threw the franchise’s first no-hitter, pitcher R.A. Dickey threw a pair of one-hitters and the Mets produced a number of unlikely rallies and wins. Through Sunday, August 19, the Mets were tied for the major league lead with 236 two-out runs.
The Mets reached the All-Star Break with a 46-40 record, just 4 ½ games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East and a half-game behind the Atlanta Braves for the second wild card spot.
The Mets have struggled badly since the break, though, and are 11-25 since play resumed, the second-worst mark in the NL. The Mets are now a stunning 20 games out of first place in the NL East and are just a half-game out of last place at 57-66 through Tuesday, August 21.
The crash has come at a doubly bad time for the Mets, whose fans are accustomed to second half swoons. This will almost certainly mark the third straight season in which the Mets had a winning record at the All-Star Break but finished below .500 and the sixth straight year in which they fell apart down the stretch.
Last year, the Mets were 46-45 at the All-Star Break and finished 77-85. The Mets were 48-40 at the All-Star Break in 2009 but finished 79-83. In 2010, the Mets were 42-45 in the first half and finished 70-92. And the Mets missed the playoffs due to stunning September collapses in both 2007 and 2008.
As a result of the latest stumble, the Mets have gotten creative on the fly in hopes of luring fans to Citi Field, where the Mets are averaging 28,871 fans per game through Tuesday. The Mets sent out a press release Tuesday, August 21 in which they detailed their “Kids Go Free” promotion for the matinee against the Colorado Rockies tomorrow, Thursday, August 23. A fan who buys one regularly priced ticket can get up to three free tickets for kids 12 and under.
And on Monday, August 20, the Mets ran a 24-hour promotion in which fans could save as much as 50 percent on tickets to this week’s seven-game homestand.
The Mets’ efforts have had mixed results thus far. The Mets drew just 23,833 fans to the series opener against Colorado on Monday, August 20, the smallest crowd at Citi Field since June 3. A crowd of 27,633 showed up for the Tuesday night game.
It surely won’t help the Mets’ ticketing efforts that they lost each of their last two games in grueling fashion. The Mets stranded five baserunners in the final two innings of a 3-1 loss Monday. Starting pitcher Chris Young carried a perfect game into the sixth inning Tuesday, but the Mets lost 6-2.
The best lure to get fans to Citi Field may be Dickey’s unlikely pursuit a 20-win season and the Cy Young Award. The knuckleball-throwing Dickey is enjoying a career year at age 37 and is 15-4 with a 2.82 ERA and an NL-high 181 strikeouts. The Mets haven’t had a Cy Young Award winner since Dwight Gooden in 1985 and haven’t produced a 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990.
Mets manager Terry Collins said Monday he would have Dickey throw every fifth game in an attempt to get him to 20 wins. Such a schedule puts Dickey on pace to make seven more starts. Four of those are expected to take place at Citi Field.
“Look, this guy has earned the right to achieve anything he can at the end of the season,” Collins said during his pre-game press conference Monday. “He’s earned that. And I hope he wins his next four starts or five starts, because I think if he does and you look at the end of the year and he’s got 22 wins, 22-4, those are pretty good numbers.”
Alas, the Mets squandered a golden opportunity to get Dickey one win closer to 20 on Monday, when he took a no-decision despite allowing just one run on three hits over seven innings.