Even though the New York Mets had bumbled and stumbled their way through the first three months of the season, they did give their fans a bit of hope heading into this series with the Washington Nationals. The Mets had won seven of nine games against weak competition, allowing them to trim into significant deficits in both the division and wild card races. As a result, many were wondering if the Mets’ results were a result of playing weak competition or significant improvement as a whole. The Nationals have delivered a cold reality check to the Mets and their fans, winning the first two games of the series while fielding much less than their full complement of players.
The series looked like it would line up well for the Mets with their three best pitchers at the moment scheduled to toe the rubber in Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Jacob deGrom. Washington had Stephen Strasburg for the opener, but was slated to throw Joe Ross and Tanner Roark in the final two games, and both of those pitchers enter the series with ERA’s over five. Even if the Mets lost the opener, which they narrowly did on Monday night, they should have been in position to win the last two games and take the series. The Mets not only lost badly yesterday, but their loss on Monday night also helped to expose more of the same issues that the team has dealt with all season. Let’s run down the list:
Injuries: Check. Curtis Granderson hasn’t started either game in this series due to hip soreness, while Yoenis Cespedes had to sit out yesterday with hamstring cramps. T.J. Rivera, a converted infielder starting in left field due to the absence of Cespedes and Granderson, also left yesterday’s game with cramps.
Playing people out of position: Check. The Mets, who started the year with too many outfielders and almost sent All Star Michael Conforto to Triple-A, were forced to start T.J. Rivera in left field yesterday. That’s right, third baseman T.J. Rivera was in left. When Rivera got hurt, the Mets were forced to stick another infielder out there to replace him in Matt Reynolds. Playing people out of position takes them out of their comfort zone and makes them more prone to . . .
Bad Defense: Check. The Mets have been a bad defensive team all season, and even the error statistic doesn’t cover all the team’s deficiencies. Poor range has been a factor, as the Mets simply can’t get to routine grounders that could have been outs and save their pitchers from jams. Innings have also been extended due to muffed grounders, forcing starters to work harder than they need to, setting the stage for . . .
Poor Relief Pitching: Check. The Mets’ bullpen has been overworked all season, and it has been underperforming as a result, with this series serving as a prime example. Jerry Blevins, the team’s most reliable reliever, gave up a two run homer on Monday night and has pitched to an ERA of 7.00 over the last month. Paul Sewald then blew the game in the ninth inning. Lugo didn’t help the unit by going only five innings yesterday, but three relievers (Erik Goeddel, Josh Edgin, and Neil Ramirez) combined to allowed allow five runs in 2.1 innings to put the game out of reach.
When all of those things are combined, you have a bad baseball team. The Mets are just 5-21 against teams in playoff positions this season, and that mark won’t get the job done with a second half schedule featuring loads of games against contenders. That 7-2 mark proved the Mets aren’t a complete dumpster fire like the Philadelphia Phillies or San Francisco Giants, but they aren’t good enough to hack it with the elite teams of the league. These games are a blessing in disguise for the Mets, who will be forced to sell at the trade deadline and give a look to some of their more intriguing young prospects, like Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario. The Nationals showed the Mets what it takes to be a top division club this season, and the Mets simply don’t have enough to get the job done.