The Mets lost their third straight game for the first time this season at Citi Field Wednesday afternoon. The Braves won another game down the turnpike against the Phillies. The complexion of the NL East division has seen a rapid change.
Braves (44-32) GB- 3
Yes, was it four weeks ago and the Mets were 11-games in front of the Braves and sailing along. Hard to believe the division would be locked in for the Mets with half a season not in the books. Remember, though, these are the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves.
Recall these were the Mets that owned first place last season for 100 days or more and the Braves made their move at the trade deadline. They surpassed the sliding Mets. So, of course Mets fans would be accustomed to panic based on the history.
Though the complexion of this 2022 Mets team is different from last year, there is no conceivable way there will be a repeat of 2021. Not another collapse of a Mets team that still holds that best record in the National League.
But all signs are showing there are reasons for panic after a Sunday walk-off home run loss to the Marlins. Two straight losses to the AL West division leading Houston Astros also can leave room for panic.
There has to be some concern as the Mets have hit their first rough patch of the season, as they await the needed returns of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom to their starting rotation. Every team has a rough patch and adversity, except for the cross town Yankees on a record pace for wins and running away with the AL East.
The Astros gave the Mets a reality check with their four game season series sweep. The Mets reality check is simple: The Astros, though in the other league, are much better and the Mets could have swept the Marlins, but the bullpen failed.
One of the advantages of covering two teams in New York was taking in four of six games with the Astros during their visits to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, a balanced team with pitching. Their potent lineup constantly makes contact at the plate as fans booed Jose Altuve out of both ballparks because they will never let that Astros sign stealing scandal go away.
Regardless, the Astros are headed to the postseason. The Mets will also play in October, division winner or not, because of the added playoff format and they have built enough room to guarantee a spot in the postseason.
Wednesday, the reality check of a Mets bullpen that needs repair after a scoreless eighth inning from Edwin Diaz, and Jason Castro breaking a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the ninth off Drew Smith who continues to cause havoc.
Up until that 9th inning, Justin Verlander silenced the Mets. Taijaun Walker threw a season-high 7.1 innings and the Mets infield made some plays that kept the Astros scoreless. But the reality check, the Mets offense was 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position in the last three games.
“It’s hard to win a major league baseball game,” manager Buck Showalter said about his team and referring to Verlander as a dominant pitcher. He said any pitcher on any night can be dominant.
Again, the reality check here is obvious as the Mets are close to the halfway point of their season and six weeks away from the trade deadline, there are needs, although, not based on three consecutive losses. Want to compete with the elite teams and keep the Braves away from a takeover:
Perhaps shopping for a starting pitcher, Scherzer will supposedly be ready and healthy. The questions exist about the arm and elbow of deGrom.
The Mets need production from the DH spot in the lineup. There is a need for another potent bat in the lineup.
The bullpen needs repair and can’t rely on the return of Trevor May or what is composed there now.
But trades require work and giving something in return. The Mets shopping could mean parting with one of their three top prospects (Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio).
The reality check is this: After an off day Thursday, the next 10-games are against the Rangers, Reds, and Marlins. Three teams below .500, though the Rangers are playing better baseball. Three series the Mets should win and build momentum for a winning streak that can provide distance again with the Braves.
Then it’s three games down in Atlanta and four at Wrigley Field with the rebuilding Cubs before the All-Star break.
Reality, though, the Mets could lose their division lead before they reach Atlanta or when they arrive. Or that series with the Braves could provide more distance.
At this rate, based on a 13-12 month of June, the Braves could surpass the Mets. Then again, you don’t want to believe this is 2021 again. I can say owner Steve Cohen and GM Billy Eppler will not stay still.
If they paid attention at Citi Field the past few days, how the Astros swept four games in Houston and New York, and look at the division lead dwindling, then the reality check is evident.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso “Sports With Rich ” and co-host Robert Rizzo live every Tuesday evening 10pm ET on SLG Network via YouTube also available on Spotify. Like, Comment, Subscribe: Rich Mancuso YouTube