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The Strike Zone

Wait 'til next year: New York Mets

Johan Santana Johan Santana's no-hitter -- the first in franchise history -- was the unquestioned highlight of the Mets' season. (AP)

While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait Till Next year series.

Current record: 72-84 (.462, 4th in the NL East)

Mathematically eliminated: September 20

What went right in 2012: As spring training opened, the Mets were under the darkest of clouds due to their abysmal financial situation, particularly with regards to their ownership's connection to the Madoff scandal, and the dispiriting losses of Carlos Beltran (traded late in 2011) and Jose Reyes (departed as a free agent). The late March settlement with the trustee of the Madoff victims eased at least some concerns about money, as did agreements to sell 12 $20 million minority shares, allowing the focus to return to the field where, despite a roster that didn't appear to have much chance of contending, the team kept within striking distance of the NL East lead. The Mets carried a 46-40 record into the All-Star break before a 1-11 record knocked them under .500 for good.

Individually, the success of their two top starting pitchers has been the biggest story out of Queens. After missing all of the 2011 season due to a torn anterior shoulder capsule, Johan Santana threw five scoreless innings on Opening Day, and put up a 2.38 ERA through his first 11 starts, capped by a no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 1, the first in the franchise's 51-season history. While Santana couldn't sustain that momentum, 37-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has put together his own season for the ages, contending for the pitching Triple Crown; he leads the NL in strikeouts (222) and is second by 0.01 in ERA (2.69) and wins (20, with the capper coming on Thursday); he has a reasonable shot at becoming the first knuckleballer ever to win a Cy Young award. With considerably less fanfare, Jonathan Niese has shaved nearly a full run off his 2011 ERA, posting a 3.49 mark while striking out 7.5 per nine, and Matt Harvey managed a strong 10-start rookie season, whiffing an eye-popping 10.6 per nine in 59 1/3 innings.

The Mets have had less to cheer for on the offensive side, but David Wright has rebounded from a down 2011 with a .309/.392/.498 performance and 21 homers. Scott Hairston has added 19 in part-time duty while hitting .263/.301/.511. Ruben Tejada (.295/.342/.357) and Ronny Cedeno (.267/.341/.422) weren't awful in their attempts to fill Reyes' shoes, and Daniel Murphy (.294/.335/.407) outhit many of his shortcomings in the field.

What went wrong in 2012: After keeping their heads above water for the first half, the Mets have gone just 26-44 in the second, the fourth-worst record in the league. The team ranks 11th in the league in both runs scoring (4.08 per game) and run prevention (4.43 per game). Ike Davis, who was diagnosed with Valley Fever during spring training, proved completely inept against lefthanders (.171/.218/.335 in 174 PA). He didn't get his overall batting average above .200 for good until June 30, and has hit just .224/.303/.456 overall to offset his team-high 31 homers. Even with Hairston, the Mets' outfield's collective offensive performance (.236/.308/.384) has been the league's second-worst in terms of OPS. Jason Bay has hit .155/.231/.294 while missing time due to a broken rib and another concussion, Andres Torres has hit .226/.324/.324, and Lucas Duda has hit .240/.330/.389 with bad defense. As for their catchers, Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas and Kelly Shoppach have combined for the league's lowest OPS on a .224/.288/.293 line.

Meanwhile, Mike Pelfrey made just three starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the remainder of the season. After pitching his no-hitter, Santana was rocked for an 8.27 ERA and 2.4 homers per nine over his final 10 starts — interrupted by an ankle sprain — before the team pulled the plug due to lower back troubles. The bullpen has been an ongoing nightmare, with closer Frank Francisco's 5.53 ERA setting the tone; New York has lost 12 games it led after six innings, the league's second-highest total, and the unit's 4.71 ERA ranks last in the league.

Overall outlook: The Mets have now posted four straight sub-.500 seasons, and unless they win five of their final six games, their win total will have dropped in consecutive seasons. Despite the end of the Madoff suit and the influx of minority investors, owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz still face considerable financial constraints, and concerns abound over their ability to fund a competitive large-market team, or to re-sign Wright and Dickey after next season. Still, for a team that came into the year offering low expectations, the Mets did provide their fans — and the rest of the baseball world — more thrills than most losing teams, thanks particularly to Santana and Dickey.

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