By JARED DIAMOND
Most teams would dread the prospect of a nine-day road trip, especially one that starts against the perennially powerful Atlanta Braves.
But for the Mets, leaving New York means escaping their personal haunted house—a black hole in Queens that inexplicably saps the team of its talent. More than any other franchise, the Mets can't figure out how to conquer their own ballpark.
Since 2011, the Mets have gone 105-144 at Citi Field (including 2-4 so far this season), compared with 122-121 everywhere else. The bizarre discrepancy makes them the only major-league team with a winning record on the road and a losing record at home over that span.
Aware of this mysterious inability to perform in friendly confines, the Mets' front office spent time this winter trying to uncover an explanation. After three years with similar results, they must at least consider the possibility that the struggles at home are more than simple coincidence.
"If there was something concrete to put your hands on, we would have found it," third baseman David Wright said. "I'm not sure there is anything concrete that you can say, 'Hey, this is the reason.'"
Whatever the cause, Mets bats slip into a coma at home. From 2011 through 2013, the team's on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) on the road is .719, eighth-best in baseball. At home, that number plummets to .679, ranking 27th.
It isn't exactly surprising that the Mets hit worse at home. Citi Field, with its cavernous and quirky dimensions, favors pitchers as much as any stadium in the league. The decision in 2012 to move in the fences only made the stadium a little less stingy.
Still, the Mets know better than to blame Citi Field's size for their woes. Their opponents face the same challenges in every game there, and it doesn't seem to affect them.
So what gives?
First baseman Ike Davis rattled off a list of potential factors ranging from wind patterns in Flushing to practical differences like more media obligations and unscheduled visits with fans. At home, he said, "We have to do more off-the-field stuff. On the road, you just show up and play."
But Davis stressed that he doesn't think signing a few more autographs or conducting a few more interviews actually impacts the Mets' production. "I really don't know why we don't play well here," he said. "I'm saying random things that are different, but it could just be that the other team plays better when we're here."
To try to stop that trend, the Mets plan to make home games this season feel more like away games, tweaking the pregame schedule to mimic road conditions.
In the past, the team would provide a light meal and snacks when the players arrived to work, consisting of salad and sandwiches. Then a larger meal, more akin to dinner, was served after batting practice, which ends about two hours before a 7:10 p.m. game.
After consulting the team nutritionist, they reversed the menu this year, with the heavier food coming out before batting practice. Teams eat this way on the road because they hit second, leaving them with little time between batting practice and the game. The Mets also changed the times of certain meetings to better resemble the road routine.
"You're never going to get it exactly the same," manager Terry Collins said.
But at this point, the Mets will try anything.
"It can't hurt us," relief pitcher Scott Rice said. "Why eat a big heavy meal right before the game?"
All that considered, the players mostly dismiss their home-road splits as bad luck, rather than concede any sort of mental block. Davis said that just being asked about it "brings the thought process of, 'Oh, we're at home, so we suck.'" Wright said the topic "sometimes gets overplayed."
To prove his point, Wright pointed to the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when the Mets finished above .500 at Citi Field. He attributed their recent issues to chance and nothing more, but he doesn't play down their significance. In the past few years, the team's deficiencies at home have ruined their seasons, even preventing them from competing for a playoff spot.
If the Mets want to improve, that needs to change.
"You can't trick yourself into thinking that it's something it's not," Wright said. "In order to be successful, you've got to take care of business at home."