Three games at Atlanta, four at Chicago, four at Philadelphia await the Mets. Indeed a road trip that will define where this team stands after losing three of four to the Cardinals at Citi Field. Sunday afternoon was also a defining moment before the road trip and it was a home run given up by the bullpen that said it all.
Chris DeJong broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning with a solo blast off Chris Flexen. And for a change of pace it was not Jeurys Familia or Edwin Diaz that gave this one away. Flexin was dispatched from Syracuse to try and fortify a Mets’ bullpen.
But the Mets need more than Flexin to fix a pen that is fourth worst in baseball and second to last in the National League.
This is a team reaching a crucial point in the schedule. Yes, crucial, with 19 games remaining before the All-Star break. And there are six weeks before the non- waiver trade deadline which could also define where the Mets are headed.
At this point, and there is no doubt in stating, the Mets are not good enough to be playing baseball in October. Yes, there is potential here and they do have some tools to change the direction. But the first place Braves are the hot team in baseball and the Phillies are not far behind in their current struggle.
But the Mets have hope. They believe, even after this latest loss, and losing three of four to the Cardinals, that getting those consistent wins is a matter of time. They say the wins will come, however they have to start doing it against three of those elite teams in the National League.
“If you stay around .500, you have an opportunity,” Todd Frazier said. “We have to start winning games and that starts tomorrow.” Frazier, knows and so does that entire Mets clubhouse about how important it is to start winning tomorrow.
Two of the big arms will start the road trip, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom. Steven Matz follows. Jason Vargas, pitching like an ace, left the game Sunday in the fourth inning with a left calf cramp after his at bat. Vargas is expected to make his next start.
Noah Syndergaard won’t make his next few starts. The Mets hope his right hamstring strain will not cause an absence from the rotation for an extended period of time. And we all are aware that consistency has hurt the Mets’ rotation and they have for the most part avoided the injured list.
Regardless, and believe what you hear, these Mets don’t quit. But the defining moment is ahead and in two weeks more will be known where this team stands.
“We need to get to .500 and then we need to start adding on past that,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We have a chance to do that on this next road trip and I expect we’re gonna play good baseball and get that accomplished.”
Callaway said the Mets are putting ourselves in position to win games. He expects this bullpen to turn things around.
A bullpen that has minimal options. Flexin is not the answer to a bullpen that has allowed 15 earned runs over the last 20 ⅓ innings and has been scored upon in his last three outings. So unless the Mets can score a pile of runs, and they have not been able to do that in the past few weeks, games will not be won.
Callaway said this is a talented team. Let’s face the facts because this bullpen has not performed and if the starters don’t go deep, or a close game is in the late innings, the bullpen will give it away. That was seen again Sunday.
Friday, a double disaster of Diaz and Familia allowed winnable games get away in the late innings.
Perhaps the Mets would be in a better spot and at .500. Instead, as was the situation in this series, their bullpen gave the game away. At 34-37, and with this road swing ahead, the first mission is to reach .500.
But can they win with this bullpen? The rookie GM, Brodie Van Wagenen says it will get better. It will have to show improvement and quick, If not, Van Wagenen and his promise to win will result in that desire to sell at the trade deadline.
Dominc Smith is not in that bullpen. He sees what is going on and has said all week this is mental as to why one guy is not picking up the other in the pen, with the exception of Seth Lugo. Smith got his first shot at leading off a game and that goes back to the first day he picked up a baseball. His leadoff double later developed into scoring the Mets’ first run.
Smith said there was no issue to adjusting his spot in the lineup. Though the Cardinals outhit the Mets 10 to 3, two more errors on the field also tacked on more as this team continues to lead the NL in that department.
And like the flawed bullpen, errors will not win these important and crucial games that are ahead. The Mets also need a healthy and productive Robinson Cano. He lined a double and scored in the third inning in his first game back with a strained left quad.
“We just have to keep fighting and have to win games,” Cano said. Easier said than done and this will be the defining week to see if it can be done with that deficit of five games behind the Phillies and 7-½ behind the Braves.
But it’s .500 first and foremost. After that, as Mickey Callaway said the rest will come. This defining road trip will see what remains of this Mets season.