This was when we still thought the Mets were among the majors’ best teams, so we must transport back to late March.
Sitting in the home dugout in St. Lucie as the Grapefruit League season wound down, I chatted with Sandy Alderson about the potential for the 19 Mets-Nationals games being pivotal and dramatic because the two clubs shared a division and projected as National League heavyweights.
“The thing about the Nationals is they are the standard against which we measure ourselves, just like we are the standard by which they measure themselves against,” Alderson said that sunny morning. “I do think it is important to play well against them — and it is not just about the 19 games, it is about meeting a standard.”
Not even three months into the season, it is obvious the Mets are below standard. If the first 64 games of the 2017 campaign were not revelatory enough, the past three — against the Nationals at Citi Field — have exemplified the chasm between the teams. Only one is a heavyweight and the Mets, quite frankly, are not in the Nats’ weight class. These past three games have been like 10-7 or 10-8 rounds in boxing, such is Washington’s clear dominance.
The teams have played 27 innings in this series and the Mets have led for none. They have been outscored 22-9. The Nats lead the season series 7-2 — 6-0 in Queens. With a 7-4 triumph Saturday, Washington has now doubled up the Mets in runs in the season series, 66-33, in part because the Nats have 23 homers in the nine games. And the numbers do not lie — the Nats are playing at a much higher level than a team that was supposed to be their equal this year.
Instead, the Mets are seven games under .500 — the Nats 16 over. The difference in the standings is 11 ¹/₂ games and the idea of the Mets making any kind of sustained run to salvage this season currently seems as remote as Pluto.
In fact, these three games made it way more likely the rest of the Met season has three functions: 1. Trade walk-year pieces such as Jerry Blevins, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed and Neil Walker for as good a group of future cogs as possible. 2. Play Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith regularly in the second half to get some gauge if the duo is ready to be the full-time shortstop and first baseman next year. 3. Restrain Jeurys Familia, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard from rushing back.
For what would they be returning?
Because it is becoming difficult even to fake optimism. Yoenis Cespedes had four hits, including a homer Saturday, but Terry Collins said the Mets are sticking to the plan to rest him Sunday as a way to ease him back after his hamstring injury. After the finale against the Nats, the Mets head out on a hellacious 10-game trip that begins in Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw and ends back on the other side of the country in Miami. So bad can grow worse.
“If you feel sorry for yourself here, you are going to get your butts handed to you,” Collins said.
The butt-handing is well underway. At 30-37, the Mets have the same 67-game record as in 2014, which was supposed to be the last bad season before an extended run of excellence. That has lasted two years.
Rene Rivera reacts after striking out to end the eighth inning Saturday.Paul J. Bereswill
In order to even reach 85 wins — which would probably not be enough for the second wild card anyway — the Mets have to play .611 ball the rest of the way. And this is a team that currently excels in zero phases of the game, and stinks on defense and out of the bullpen.
“This isn’t football, so we don’t do pep talks every day,” Collins said. Instead, the manager said he has talked to a few of his leaders about not succumbing to injuries and the reality of the standings, “to keep grinding.”
That seemed motivational when they took two of three from the Cubs to open this homestand, including rallying from 4-1 down to win the finale with the kind of all-hands-on-deck triumph that should have been inspiring. Then the Nationals came to town. And with perhaps their last best chance to get back into the NL East race, the Mets have belly flopped.
The three games have been similar — a Washington starter holding down the Mets offense. A Mets starter not doing well enough to overcome his own offense and defense. The Nats grabbing such commanding leads that even their incendiary bullpen could not blow the games.
So the last best chance has come and gone, as has the idea there are two NL East heavyweights. It is only mid-June and the Nationals have pretty much delivered a knockout punch.