By Paul DiSclafani:
The Mets offense suffered a season high 23 consecutive shutout innings during their three game sweep at the hands of First Place Washington, being outscored 20-6 while dropping a whopping six games behind the Nationals and falling into third place behind the Marlins in the National League East.
After a 2-7 road trip against the Braves and Nationals in which they scored just 18 runs (eight of them in one game and four in another), they limp home to start a four game series with the only team in baseball to amass more than 50 wins, the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs (51-26). Oh yeah, the Cubs have vengeance on their minds as this is the first chance they have gotten to pay back the Mets since being swept away during the 2015 National League Championship Series.
Talk about a rock and a hard place…
With no immediate help on the horizon, the bruised and battered Mets will have to take a good look in the mirror and try to right this ship with what they have.
“It sounds real trite, but we’ve gotta grind this out,” manager Terry Collins said. “We’ve gotta get through this tough time. We were going to ride our pitching. Well, we’re not riding it right now. We’ve got as many problems with our pitching as we do anything.”
Last year, it was the Mets pitching that kept them close in June and July while the bats continued to sputter. When reinforcements were acquired, the Mets went on a tear that led them all the way to the World Series. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, that’s not going to happen this season. The Mets may have been depending on their 2016 pitching to duplicate 2015, which has not been the case.
Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have revealed they have bone spurs in their elbows which may physically and mentally change the way they pitch. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom have not been the dominant force they were in 2015. That leaves 43 year-old Bartolo Colon as the Ace?
The 2016 Mets left camp built as a home run hitting team and in April, that was all they did. Now that they are not hitting home runs (they are fifth in the NL), fans and the media want to know why they can’t bunt and manufacture runs like they did before?
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
“We are a team that hits homers,” Collins said. “When you are not hitting homers you think you can convert this to a small ball team. When you hit and run, you better have a team that can handle the bat, OK. We swing hard and therefore we are going to swing and miss. We don’t have a lot of speed, so when you are going to hit and run, that means you are not going to get a good jump, which means you are running into outs.”
Small ball requires speed and the ability to move the runners over on productive outs or bunting. Right now, the Mets look lost when they attempt to do that. Wilmer Flores was easily out on a “safety” squeeze situation in Washington when he had no reason to try and score because the bunt when right to the pitcher.
“We are not that kind of team”, Collins said. “We are not a big bunt team because bunting means all you are doing is getting the guy to second. We’re still trying to hit home runs, that’s what we do. When you try to take a team built one way and make them do something different you are going to get your butt beat.”
The Mets have lost four straight heading into this weekend and are 0-3 on this crucial 14 game stretch leading into the All Star break. After the four game set with the Cubs, they welcome in the now second place Marlins for three games and these same Nationals for four more.
The pitching matchups for the Cubs series are:
- Game 1: Steven Matza (7-3) vs John Lackey (7-4)
- Game 2: Jacob deGrom (3-4) vs Jason Hammel (7-4)
- Game 3: Bartolo Colon (6-4) vs Jake Arrieta (12-2)
- Game 4: Noah Syndergaard (8-3) vs Jon Lester (9-3)
Before this season started, this series was circled on most Mets and Cubs fans calendars. The Cubs fans were looking for revenge; the Mets fans were looking to prove 2015 was no fluke. Now the Mets fans are looking at it with one eye open and hoping to still be relevant by the time they get to Sunday.
To make matters worse, the Nationals have a four game set with the 29-50 Cincinnati Reds, who were just swept by the Cubs.
Is this a season defining series for the Mets, considering they have not yet played half of their 162 scheduled games? Maybe not mathematically, but certainly mentally. Losing three out of four to the Cubs this weekend might be a “win” in the eyes of the panicky Mets fans, but the result is not as significant as the effort.
If the moribund offense continues to sputter and the starting pitching continues to be spotty at best, then the month of July is going to feel more like 31 weeks than 31 days. However, if the pitching begins to come around and the games are competitive (regardless of the outcome), the Mets bats will be getting recruitments in the coming weeks – Jose Reyes, Juan Lagares (both had 2-RBI nights in AA yesterday) and maybe even Lucas Duda. The Mets should make a bid on Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gourriel (it’s only money, right?) who could be ready to play in a few weeks.
This is the fourth consecutive year the Mets have posted losing records in both May and June, but this year was supposed to be different. This year the Mets pitching was supposed to dominate. The team was built to rely on dominant pitching and the more-often-than-not three run homerun. Without the dominant pitching AND the three run home run, this is, sadly, a .500 team at best. And at 40-37 coming into this weekend, the Mets would be happy to still be a .500 club come Monday morning.