It is done. At last.

The inevitable seemed to drag out longer than anyone truly wanted it to, delaying what everyone knew was coming, which was jubilation on one side and a hint of finality about to set in on the other.

The New York Mets clinched the National League East title Saturday, hammering the Cincinnati Reds early at Great American Ball Park to ensure about an hour into the game that the celebration would be commencing soon.

The 10-2 win, which came on the strength of starter Matt Harvey’s 6.2 innings and two earned runs on 97 pitches, gave the Mets their first division title since 2006, and it will be their first postseason appearance since then as well. They did it as the heavy underdog; the Washington Nationals expected to trounce them when Opening Day rolled around in April.

Meanwhile, those Nationals, easily the most disappointing team in Major League Baseball this year, have been going through the motions. They claimed they believed in the postseason dream up until the end, even though the odds had buried them weeks earlier and their sense of urgency was gone well before that. The Mets’ official Twitter account highlighted the team capturing the NL East:

The Nationals also won a game Saturday, but by the time Bryce Harper hit a walk-off double to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 12th inning, the Mets were already well into their celebration.

In fact, in the same moments Harper’s hit won the game, Mets rookie right-hander Noah Syndergaard was tapping buttons on social media to share with the world the feelings he and his teammates were experiencing:

The Mets are going to be the top dog in the NL East for a while—at least that is easy to believe right now.

They have position players still coming into their own, such as Travis d’Arnaud, and the franchise should be willing to spend the money to add to that core, whether it is re-signing impending free agent Yoenis Cespedes or finding offense in another form. Even with “Captain America,” David Wright, on the downside of his career, the Mets should feature a capable offense going forward.

The pitching, of course, is the foundation. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Syndergaard are the players who will decide the peaks this franchise reaches over the next handful of seasons, starting with these coming playoffs. With that kind of starting pitching core, the Mets can be penciled in to contend without hesitation.

The Nationals were built to contend in 2015, and the future was going to be unclear beyond that with key players hitting free agency.

While the Mets were viewed as an up-and-coming club still finding itself at the start of the season, the Nationals were thought to be the squad of mostly veterans—including 22-year-old Harper in his fourth year—built on potentially dominant starting pitching and enough offensive firepower to win, even if the starters had a letdown.

Now, more than eight months after the Nats signed Max Scherzer and became the overwhelming division favorites, the team seems a mess. It has devolved into one that has not played with urgency all year and has a sour aura surrounding it.

At least some of the men on the field blame manager Matt Williams, long seen as a strategic debacle, but now exposed as a flawed leader. General manager Mike Rizzo spent much of the downtrodden season defending Williams, but even he has cooled on the idea to the point where, whenever he is asked about Williams’ job security, he is publicly saying he will evaluate the entire team after the campaign. 

“It’s a terrible environment,” one player told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. “And the amazing part is everybody feels that way.”

Managers probably have less of an impact on wins and losses in baseball than they do in other team sports. Even Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, a fiery skipper, understood the game is mostly an individual sport and that players affect the outcomes. Not managers.

Yet, when a manager is so “tense,” as Nationals players described Williams as being, minds can change.

“A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it made any difference,” another player told Svrluga. “But after what we’ve been through for two years? It’s huge. Huge.”

Those quotes were published Saturday night, around the time the Mets eliminated the Nationals from the postseason. Both instances combined to likely finish off Williams’ tenure with the franchise, one that won him the league’s Manager of the Year honor last season.

The Nationals are not done being competitive. They still have a rotation fronted by Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a great pitching prospect in Lucas Giolito and they still have Harper, Rendon and other promising young position players like center fielder Michael Taylor and shortstop Trea Turner. Those players will help keep this franchise competitive in the immediate future.

The Mets and Nationals will likely have fierce battles for years to come, but this year’s will hardly be remembered as a competitive one. In the now, these are franchises headed in opposite directions, with one likely in the market for a new manager.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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