Who’s the Mets’ biggest rival, the team you enjoy beating most? Your answer might depend upon when you first got into the game. To me it’s always nice to beat the Cubs. Maybe it’s not the same as it was before they finally won the World Series, but the Cubs were a stand-in for futility. You could always say something like – at least we’re better than the Cubs.
Some of our older readers can chime in what it was like for them in the 60s but here’s where my rivalry meter stands:
Early 70s – Pirates
Late 70s – Phillies
80s – Cardinals
90s-Aughts – Braves
Teens – Nats (with some residual Braves)
Of course, the Yankees are there. They’re always there, aren’t they? But six games max versus 19 is a tough argument to make, to have them be the top rival. Anyway, there’s certainly room to quibble with the above list. But regardless of who makes the list, it seems to me that there will be a constant throughout – the Mets don’t have a natural rival. There’s no Mets equivalent of Dodgers-Giants or Cubs-Cardinals. Rather, it’s whatever team is on top at the moment.
The Braves were on top for so long, winning 14 division titles in 15 years – don’t ever let them say 14 straight because anyone who can read or count knows that’s not what it was – that it’s reasonable for the 20 and 30-somethings to think of them as our rival. And those younger fans have to live with witnessing the 1999 NLCS and the 67-106 lifetime record at the house of horrors known as Turner Field.
But the benefit of age is having witnessed the other end of stick. If you were a Mets fan in the 80s, you’ll remember how a series with Atlanta was the opportunity to pad the stats, much like a visit from the Marlins the past couple of seasons. From 1984-1990 the Mets held a 57-27 edge over the Braves. And only poor years in 1982 and 1983 kept that streak from extending back to 1975. Shoot, let’s go ahead and tally it up anyway. From 1975-1990, the Mets were 111-75, a .597 winning percentage, which would mean 97 wins in a 162-game season.
The Nats won the World Series last year but the Braves won the NL East, which makes them the two-time defending champs of the division. It’s a little maddening because it seemed like fate really smiled upon that team last year, whether it was exceeding Pythagoras by six games or getting fantastic bounceback seasons by guys on the wrong side of 30 or having stiffs promoted from the minors going 11-1 or having waiver claims play out of their mind when forced into starts late in the year.
All of this talk about rivals and the Braves comes to mind because in this shortened season, the Mets are only going to play games against teams in the NL and AL East, to cut down on travel. And the season will start against the Braves. Last year the Mets were 42-38 against East division foes from both leagues, including 2-2 against the Yankees and 8-11 against the Braves.
The Mets had a winning record against the Nationals last year, something they’ve done with regularity before and after Dusty Baker’s tenure in Washington. The Mets were 13-25 against the Nats when Baker was managing and in the year prior to his arrival and the two years since he was let go, the Mets enjoy a 34-23 advantage. Since relocating from Montreal to D.C., the Mets are 133-145 against the Nationals. The Mets hold the lead by winning the season series against the Nats 7-6 (2 ties) but when the Nats take the series, they do so by a much wider margin.
In the 60-game sprint of 2020, the Mets are going to have to do better against the Braves – percentage-wise – than they did last year, while hoping to mimic what they did against the Nats and Marlins. And they certainly can’t make the playoffs with last year’s .368 mark against the Phillies. But after beating Philadelphia by a combined 82-50 mark the previous seven seasons, we’ll chalk that up to a one-year blip and expect a return to normalcy in 2020.