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2020 had its share of obstacles, but still an unacceptable end for Mets

Jacob deGrom of the Mets reacts after giving

Jacob deGrom of the Mets reacts after giving up a run on a wild pitch in the fourth inning against the Nationals during Game 1 of a doubleheader at Nationals Park on Saturday in Washington. Credit: Getty Images/Greg Fiume

With multi-billionaire Steve Cohen taking over the franchise and the looming return of former general manager Sandy Alderson as the team’s new president, making the playoffs wasn’t going to guarantee anything for the current personnel on the 2020 Mets.

But to fall short in a year when more than half of the National League qualified, with some of those eight teams barely over .500?

That’s a terrible look for the resume, and an epic fail by these Mets. "We have a lot of talent," Pete Alonso said after Saturday’s demoralizing sweep by the Nationals finished them off. "We just didn’t do it."

Another loss on Sunday and the Mets (26-33) will end up sharing last place with the Nationals, who at least won the World Series a year ago.

Obviously, this was a very challenging season, navigating around the coronavirus while trying to play 60 games in compliance with unprecedented health and safety protocols. I’m surprised we got to the finish.

But these obstacles were not unique to the Mets, and if you listened to GM Brodie Van Wagenen — along with many of the players — they did a fine job keeping the clubhouse healthy (aside from those two positives in Miami).

Adversity? Right in the Mets’ own division, the Marlins somehow overcame being shut down for more than a week when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19, scrambled to field a team and still clinched second place Friday night by beating the Yankees in the Bronx.

There were no excuses. And yet the Mets entered Saturday’s doubleheader against the Nationals with less than a 2% chance of reaching October, having to win their final three games and then get odds-defying help from three other teams.

With the Mets facing almost inevitable doom, even Jacob deGrom couldn’t hold off fate in the first game, blowing a 2-0 lead in the eventual 4-3 loss despite emptying the tank with a season-high 113 pitches over five innings.

DeGrom won’t win a third straight Cy Young Award, as his ERA jumped to 2.38, but he’s still the best pitcher in the National League — and yet the rest of this franchise refuses to rise anywhere near his level.

"This is not the season that we anticipated," manager Luis Rojas said. "At the start, we felt that we were going to be part of that playoff group, and we didn’t achieve our goal."

DeGrom took those expectations a step further. When asked Saturday to recall his feelings when the expanded playoffs were announced — it didn’t become official until Opening Day — he said he never even considered the wider safety net.

"I think the goal was to win our division," deGrom said. "That was my goal, personally. I think if you ask everybody in there, that was the goal: to go out and win a division. And we weren’t able to do that."

As for not being one of the NL’s October Eight, deGrom added, "That’s pretty frustrating. I think the level of disappointment is very high."

Saturday’s defeat officially stretched the Mets’ playoff drought to four years, dating to the classic Noah Syndergaard-Madison Bumgarner duel at Citi Field, and should bring the curtain down on the Wilpon Era, which featured zero titles, one pennant and four postseason trips in 18 seasons.

The Wilpons get to bow out with $2.4 billion. As for those they leave behind, Van Wagenen and Rojas, the future remains uncertain.

Van Wagenen spent a sizable chunk of the Mets’ prospect capital in moves that he believed would accelerate the team’s return to the playoffs. They crashed instead.

As for the rotation Van Wagenen once crowed was potentially the deepest in baseball, it literally crumbled around deGrom, with converted reliever Seth Lugo and rookie David Peterson trying to protect the Mets’ fading hopes down the stretch. Marcus Stroman — another BVW trade — opted out because of COVID-19 concerns, and his absence left a hole that turned out to be crippling.

Rojas seems to have a loyal following in the clubhouse, a benefit of the relationships built in the minor leagues. But too often, the Mets suffered from defensive lapses and a lack of focus on the basepaths, troubling signs that need to be tightened up for a future shot at contending.

Will Alderson — and the next GM — be amenable to continue along the learning curve with Rojas? Given how this Mets’ season unraveled, there’s not a very compelling case for the status quo, aside from the young talent that already was put in place by Alderson’s previous tenure.

"This two-month season isn’t going to define some of our careers," Dominic Smith said. "And we still have a little bit of time with this core group, with some of these pitchers we have. That’s all we can look forward to."

Don’t forget Cohen. And Alderson. Those are the only beacons left for the Mets to cling to after their playoff dream evaporated Saturday. Not bad for a consolation prize, but this was an unacceptable ending.

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