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Mets far from out of it after slow start

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This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When the Mets resume play with a Subway Series matchup against the Yankees on Tuesday, they will take the field with a 31-35 record and a .470 winning percentage. Their run differential suggests they have not been unlucky; this is who they are. For a team with the highest payroll in Major League history, such numbers can be difficult to digest.

But this is not an impossible situation for the Mets to overcome. Seventeen times in history, a team with a .470 winning percentage or worse through the first 66 games of a season went on to make the playoffs. Eleven of those instances have occurred in the Wild Card era, suggesting a permanent rate increase since the mid-90s. One happened just last year, in the first season of MLB’s even-further-expanded 12-team playoff format, when the Mariners rebounded from a 29-37 (.439) start to qualify.

A second club, the oft-referenced 2022 Phillies, hit its low-water mark when it landed eight games under .500 in its 50th contest. The Phils wound up winning the National League pennant.

This is going to happen more and more, given the number of teams that make the playoffs. Consider: Despite their struggles over the first two-plus months of the season, the Mets walked off the field on Sunday merely three games out of a playoff spot. Their probability of making the postseason, according to Fangraphs projections, stood at 34.4 percent — less than half of what it was on Opening Day, but far from a long-shot.

It’s still very early. The last four NL pennant winners (excepting the shortened 2020 campaign) all sat outside playoff position at this point of the calendar. The “why not us?” mantra that teams love to overuse has never had more backing in reality.

“I don’t get into that, ‘How many games are left’ or all that other stuff,” manager Buck Showalter said Sunday. “You want to be operating on all cylinders. That’s a real challenge, but you still strive to get there.”

The common fan counterargument to this sort of logic goes something to the effect of: “Why should I care? The Mets haven’t shown enough aptitude for any of this to matter.” But that line of thinking, aside from being needlessly pessimistic, discounts the relative ease of making an unexpected run in today’s game.

The 2022 Phillies didn’t win the pennant because they were the best team in the National League. Far from it. They made the World Series because of a friendly playoff expansion and a well-timed hot streak.

The Mets, who could set up a three-game Wild Card Series rotation featuring Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga, would stand a chance against anyone in October. All they have to do is overcome their losing tendencies sooner rather than later, make some prudent adds at the Trade Deadline, and see where it takes them.

Wilder things, quite literally, have happened.

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