The Mets’ subpar September has propped the door open for Atlanta to take the division from them.
That much has been known for a while, even before the calendar flipped and added an extra scoop of tension to every game. What was unknown, at least before this week, was how much Buck Showalter was paying attention to the buoyant Braves.
Asked on Monday if he ever sneaks a glance at his phone to check the standings, Showalter had a perfectly Showalter answer.
“I don’t ever check my phone unless it rings, okay?”
This is Showalter’s 21st season as a big-league manager. He’s been in nearly every situation a manager can draw up, whether it’s guiding a team through a tight race during the season’s final weeks, being in charge of a 100-win team that has things wrapped up with time to spare, or overseeing a 47-win laughingstock as he did in his final year with Baltimore.
With the Mets holding a white-knuckle grip on their half-game lead in the National League East, every day is a new opportunity for the weak-minded to anxiously agonize over Atlanta. Not Showalter, though, who says he keeps a single-minded focus on his team.
“I’ve learned that it’s better to do it that way,” he said, praising his own self-prescribed approach. “It requires some discipline, because you do care a lot, don’t confuse it with that.”
Trying to find that balance — expressing a high level of care and urgency without exuding desperation or franticness — is the name of the game for any MLB manager. All of the Mets, from the coaching staff and players to the clubhouse attendees who would like a nice postseason check, want the team to win the division and ensure at least three postseason games.
“It’s obviously why we get up in the morning,” Showalter said of trying to clinch the NL East.
Checking the standings, though, is not part of his reason for climbing out of bed each day. Constantly getting worked up about what the Braves are doing won’t help the Mets play any better, so why bother?
“What’s it going to change?” the skipper asked rhetorically.
While Showalter definitely has a point, there’s also the school of thought that says hyper-awareness breeds motivation. Keeping an eye on Atlanta can be a huge force for the Mets. If the Braves win three in a row, they know they have to also bring their A-game to keep up. If the Braves lose three in a row, the Mets know they can strike while their opponent is down.
Showalter doesn’t want the players to get caught up in that, though. His years of experience have taught him that too much information can sometimes be a bad thing, especially in the social media age where it’s all so accessible. The best course of action for the players, in Showalter’s opinion, is to ignore the noise, something he’s happy to help them with.
“A lot of people they deal with every day — I’m not talking about the media, it might be family, friends — they’re always tweeting and twoh’ing [sic] and whatever they do. They get that all the time. Why would I [add to it]?”
Showing up every day with news that the players deem old, irrelevant or easily apparent can also earn a manager a one-way ticket to being made fun of.
“They really hate when you’re Captain Obvious,” Showalter said. “When you say something in advanced meetings where they go, ‘No s—t, Buck.’ It doesn’t work. I try not to say those things.”
With great power comes great responsibility, too. Being in front of the NL East for so much of the season affords the Mets the strange privilege of being the hunted, rather than the hunter. At the end of the day, that’s always better than the alternative, and the 66-year-old manager who’s still gunning for his first World Series appearance will take all the pressure that being on top breeds.
“It comes with it. We’ve talked about it. It’s about us, it’s about today, it’s about who we’re facing.”