Back in spring training, the majority of us believed the Mets were, at the very least, a playoff team. Spending close to $400 million on an Opening Day roster tends to give that impression.
But if someone told us that both Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor would once again deliver MVP-caliber seasons, along with one of the team’s biggest wild cards, Japanese rookie Kodai Senga, pitching to a 2.98 ERA while staying healthy all year, we’d consider that playoff berth a virtual lock. And perhaps a deep October run to follow
The reality, however, was something completely different. Shockingly so.
When I described that scenario to both Alonso and Lindor before Thursday night’s game against the Marlins, both acknowledged the missed opportunity. It’s easy to take their performances this season for granted, only because that’s what they’re expected to do. Alonso has been the most consistent home-run hitter in baseball since he first broke into the majors in 2019; Lindor is paid $341 million to be a franchise cornerstone, a Gold Glove-worthy shortstop and elite offensive threat.
But these types of seasons are not automatic, and each one that ends with an empty October means one less title shot for players that turn a year older. Alonso had 46 homers and 117 RBIs before Thursday’s game, and if he continues on this trajectory — provided he signs an extension with the Mets — he’ll own every one of the franchise’s run-producing records before he’s done. Unfortunately for him, history has shown that doesn’t often get rewarded with World Series rings in Flushing, and this season was another painful reminder of blown chances. And how challenging it is to keep doing it on a personal level.
“Every year is a different story — it’s a different journey,” Alonso said. “I take pride in preparing myself every offseason and doing what I can to be the best I can every day for this team and this organization. It’s hard, yeah. But with these guys, and these people in the clubhouse, it’s super easy to come to work every day because we have a bunch of high-character individuals in this clubhouse.”
It wasn’t surprising to hear Alonso go to bat for a Mets group that has deservedly come under fire, both for their disappointing play on the field and reported chemistry issues with this clubhouse. He’s been in the eye of that storm, amid the noise of him being on the trade block at the deadline, but the final numbers will show Alonso apparently wasn’t fazed by that turbulence.
Lindor is getting much better at that, too, but still believes he has plenty of room for improvement. It’s quite a statement, considering that Lindor just became only the fourth player in Mets history with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season, joining David Wright, Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry. He also joins Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez as the only shortstops to do it.
But when Lindor is asked to reflect on that impressive feat, he sees the Mets’ big-picture failure instead, and focuses on how he personally can help prevent a repeat of this year’s crushing disappointment. The stats are shiny, but the gaudy accomplishments don’t blind him to what he has to work on moving forward.
“I’m hoping to be a better leader,” Lindor said. “And I got to lead a little better.”
When I asked him what that involved, Lindor mentioned that it goes beyond just doing it by example, like playing in 157 of the team’s 159 games — an ironman durability that always gets respect from teammates. There were instances, Lindor said, where he could have done more this season.
“There’s other things to leading, not just playing every day,” Lindor said. “That’s one way. Posting up is one way, for sure. But there’s other attributes that I have learned that I got to do a better job. Coming into this year, I didn’t really emphasize that aspect. I was always like, I want to post up, I’m going to play every day, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to take care of business, and that’s my way.
“But now a year older, 700 at-bats more, 160 games more, it’s one of those things where you learn and you grow as a person, as a teammate, as a father, as a husband. Everything . . . There’s certain things I wish I could’ve done better. Even last year, there’s things I wish I would have done better. Like not slamming the door on my fingers.”
Lindor avoided such hotel room calamities en route to his best season in Flushing, but the Mets, as a whole, face-planted. If we could project similar output from both him and Alonso in 2024, it would be reasonable to expect a much different result than this current Mets’ disaster. They’re going to need more help, however.
“It’s not just about us,” Lindor said. “I felt very confident in this group and I felt really good about what we had. I thought we were going to be in the playoffs from Day One. I truly believed that we had a team to go all the way. But other teams earned it — we didn’t.”