Karpin: NL East Title is Gone and Wild Card May Not Be Far Behind

Thanks to another stellar effort from Jacob deGrom, the Mets won the series finale against the Washington Nationals and avoided a four-game sweep, but they need to examine what happened this weekend and use it as a wake up call.

What the Nats showed the Mets is that, barring a collapse that would rival the 1978 Boston Red Sox, the division title is literally out of reach.

Washington got just what they needed as they overwhelmed the Mets in taking 3 out of 4 at Citi Field. The Nats are in the driver’s seat on the road to the NL East. “We look back, okay, we’ll be 3-1 here versus 1-3, then they’d (the Mets) be a whole lot closer,” said Nationals Manager Dusty Baker. Barring injuries to Washington’s lethal lineup, their need at closer won’t derail their run at the division crown simply because no one else is good enough to overtake them. The Nats’ day of reckoning will come in the post-season.

Mets’ Manager Terry Collins would have you believe otherwise but he should have the belief that his team can comeback, even if the outsiders don’t. Collins is a baseball lifer and has probably seen stranger. He knows there are still 94 games remaining. “Look, don’t pick up the newspapers, just go win baseball games,” Collins said to a room full of print reporters before he realized what he had said. (the remark drew a laugh from those in attendance at his post game presser) “I do believe it, (a comeback) the only thing you can control is how you play. If you can win games, you’ll get back in the race,” said the longest tenured skipper in Mets history.

After 68 games, the Mets trail Washington by 10½ games, ten in the loss column. They’ve dropped eight of ten to the Nationals who seem to have re-acquired the Mets’ number that they had before 2015. There are still nine games remaining between the two, with six of those in D.C. The focus should now shift to the Wild Card but it’s an equally difficult task.

As it currently stands, the Mets (31-37) trail in the Wild Card standings by 12 games. Arizona and the Dodgers are both 44-26 and tied for the top two spots. Colorado leads the West with a 46-26 record so that complicates things even more as all three of those teams could make the playoffs.

The Cubs are 34-34 but I expect them to play better and capture the NL Central which would put Milwaukee in the NL Wild Card picture and likely out of the playoffs. By the way, the Pirates and Marlins and Reds are right there with the Mets.

Crunching numbers is only part of the dilemma for the Mets. Another is the schedule.

The nine games remaining with Washington aside, the Mets are 15-13 against the rest of their division and all those teams are under .500. They have 24 games left with the NL West with 17 of those against the Dodgers, (beginning Monday night in Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw) Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Mets still have a three game series remaining at Wrigley in September against the Cubs and seven against the Cardinals. As far as the remaining interleague schedule, there is the four-game, home and home series with the Yankees; three games in Seattle and a three game series in Houston in early September, so the schedule could be the eventual dagger.

During the early portion of the season, it was being said that the Mets’ offense was not the problem. It’s a problem now. The lineup looks “stale” and it’s not just because of who the opposing pitcher is. It lacks three major ingredients: a presence at leadoff, overall balance, and athleticism, even when it’s whole.

It’s my opinion that Michael Conforto is not a leadoff batter. There is a mindset to hitting first in the order and Conforto looks like he’s not in that mindset. I’m not interested in how “sabermetrics” may view a batting order. Bottom line is that a manager can control (meaning he can dictate who bats) only one inning on offense and that’s the first inning. I want to maximize the potential of my best hitter (I think Conforto can be that) by batting him third. That gives him two chances to come up with a man on or men on base in the first inning. The 3-4 should be Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes followed by Jay Bruce. That’s a nice lefty-righty-lefty combo which adds balance to the lineup. You could even go with Bruce-Cespedes-Conforto as the two, three and four hitters.

Wilmer Flores is not a #4 hitter and Lucas Duda is too easy an out for opposing pitchers. If Duda doesn’t hit a home run, he doesn’t really do much else at the plate. The lack of athleticism has led to a number of GIDP’s (ground into double plays in “official scorers” talk) lately that have absolutely destroyed innings. The lack of speed throughout the lineup certainly adds to that number. T.J. Rivera looks like a hitter that you can place in different positions throughout the order. I’d like to see him in the two-hole because he can hit to all fields, but again, we comeback to the lack of a leadoff presence.

The Mets cannot afford to continue to carry Jose Reyes if he is hitting under .200 or thereabouts. They were counting on Reyes to provide some of that much needed leadoff presence but it has not translated to steady production. I think Reyes has until the All-Star break to show whether he still has it or else the Mets will likely make a move and promote stud shortstop prospect Amed Rosario. The Mets have been hesitant for one reason or another to promote their top prospect but if the team is still five or six games under .500, then I think you’ll see him at CitiField when the second half begins. You can’t expect him to come here and be the savior right away but he could provide a much needed jolt to the roster.

Can this team rebound once again, like they did last year, to earn an improbable playoff spot? Can their pitching get healthy enough and will they get enough “help” from the other contenders? It was a near miraculous run last season that got them into the NL Wild Card Game. It will take a lot more to pull it off this time.

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