WASHINGTON — The question has ceased being if the Mets can actually catch up to the elite teams in the National League. The question has become something far simper than that:
Do the Mets even belong on the same field with those teams?
And the answer has become even more plain:
No. They do not.
“When you know you’re in an uphill battle to catch these guys,” Jay Bruce said Tuesday afternoon after the 11-4 loss, “you know you have to make up as much ground as possible.”
It’s noble to listen to the Mets still talk about the chase and the race and the ardent pursuit of summer, but it isn’t what you hear out of them that is relevant right now, it’s what you see. And what we have seen, across the last few weeks, is a team that not only can’t beat the best teams in their own league, they can barely compete with them.
In the last 19 days, the Mets have played 11 games against the Nationals and the Dodgers, the two teams (with apologies to the Diamondbacks) that seem destined to meet in the NLCS because they look, far and away, to be the best two teams in the league. They have lost 10 of those games. They have been outscored 73-31.
Against the National League varsity, the Mets look overwhelmingly hapless, punchless and hopeless. How can you possibly see that getting better any time soon? And even if it did … would it matter? Would anyone even notice?
“If we get all our guys in the lineup, I like our chances,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Not to disrespect anyone out there today, they’re doing the best they can.”
Yes, the Mets are banged up. Yes, they were missing Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson from the lineup, and Michael Conforto is on the DL, and you’d like to have your full complement of weapons available when you go head-to-head with the Nats.
But it’s worth remembering that the Nats are without two key elements of their best-case blueprint, too, in Adam Eaton and Trea Turner. Moreover, while there was a sense of necessity all around the Mets from the moment they first walked into Nationals Park on Monday afternoon, the Nats have yet to play their full A-lineup yet. Daniel Murphy sat Monday night except for a late pinch-hit appearance. Tuesday Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters were given full days off.
And they still went 2-for-2 against the Mets.
They’re toying with the Mets.
“We have to make pitches and make plays,” said Seth Lugo, who started well but wound up surrendering six earned runs. “Right now it’s been a struggle to do both.”
It wasn’t against the Giants, or the Marlins, or the Phillies, the three teams the Mets faced leading into this series against whom they went 7-2, allowing them to build at least a puff of momentum heading in. If there is progress to be found this season, that’s it: The Mets have learned to play better against teams they should beat. If they’d done that more in the season’s first two months, when the schedule was loaded with patsies, maybe they wouldn’t have buried themselves so deeply.
But they didn’t do that. And they’re still underwater. Every time they inch within sight of sea level – they were four games under .500 entering Sunday’s game – they slip and fall back into the chasm. They’re seven under now, and when you’re that far south of sea level, you barely earn the right to talk about being mediocre, let alone good.
The Mets aren’t very good. It’s been three-plus months now, and the evidence is as clear now as it’s been all year. The National League is still so lousy with dreadful teams that there are plenty the Mets still belong with. Just not the good teams. Just not against the Dodgers (0-4) and the D-backs (0-3) or even the Brewers (2-5), and certainly not the Nats, who have now won nine of 12 and must feel tempted to see what a full spring-training B-team might do against Jacob deGrom on Wednesday night, just for kicks and giggles.
The Nats have already made their statement here, and all year: loud, clear, and unmistakable.
And so, too, for that matter, have the Mets.