It’s rarely a good idea to try and judge what a team is in the middle of a losing or winning streak. No team is ever as good for a whole season as they are when winning eight in a row. Nor are they truly as bad as when they spend a week and a half looking like the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But these streaks can tend to correct teams to their true levels over the course of a full season. Which must be the real fear for the Queens Side of New York these days.
The Mets lost their sixth game out of seven on Sunday, and their eighth in their last 10. And one of those wins was in the carnival contest of extra innings. Perhaps more worrying is that three of those losses came to the Marlins, and two more to the Reds, who are a synonym for mediocrity. They spent the weekend getting clocked by the Phillies, who used the three wins to leap over the Mets into first in the NL East. The Braves also passed the Mets, leaving them in third place and decidedly without momentum.
It’s easy to point to the Mets’ most important pitcher and more important hitter being on the shelf long-term as the biggest reason that the Citi Nine have backed up in August, and we’ll circle back to that. But it’s a bit more. Quite frankly the Mets can’t hit, and they most certainly can’t hit for power. Among the National League, they’re second to last in runs, and third to last in slugging. They’re middling when it comes to getting on base or avoiding strikeouts, but they simply can’t score in bunches.
Outside of Pete Alonso, who’s about the only reason this lineup isn’t fully something out of 1984, the Mets have been let down by everyone. Michael Conforto hit .136 in June and .171 in July. The Mets didn’t pay much attention to James McCann getting some extreme BABIP luck in Chicago for parts of a season and a half and paid handsomely for that deflation. Dominic Smith is slugging below .400. Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo have been ouchy for large portions of the season. There wasn’t a ton of depth here and it’s been too heavily examined with all the injuries. Even when Francisco Lindor was healthy he wasn’t exactly lighting the night sky with a 97 wRC+, though he had started to flash his true form in July before getting hurt. Javy Báez was brought in to provide more bang, but has continued his jaw-dropping whiffing ways, with a 38 percent strikeout rate so far as a Met.
To make it worse, it looks like he’ll be joining Lindor on the Training Table All-Stars, as he left today’s game after appearing to hurt his side/oblique. If it is his oblique, we know that can be a very tricky and annoying injury. McNeil is back now and J.D. Davis being in the lineup every day might soften the blow of not having Báez or Lindor at all for the next month, but that’s some thin ice to try and walk across.
The Mets also might be suffering more than most from pitchers getting back to the six-month grind after the 10-week season of last year. Taijuan Walker has been woeful in his last five starts after throwing just 67 innings the past three seasons. Marcus Stroman has only seen the sixth inning in one of his last seven starts. Tylor Megill has been a sight for sore eyes coming up into the rotation, but he also doesn’t go more than four innings to protect his development. If Rich Hill goes more than five innings it violates his AARP status. The Mets have the second most innings over the past month from their pen, which would be less worrying if that bullpen’s ERA wasn’t over 4.00 in that time.
Jacob deGrom doesn’t look like he’ll be back to provide salvation until September, and Lindor might not be back until the end of August. Carlos Carrasco is back but on a limited count after so long out with injury. And by the time they’re all in fighting shape, it might be too late. After falling behind the Phillies 2.5 games and now having the Braves looking them square in the eye, the Mets will spend two weeks playing only the Dodgers and Giants after this week’s series with the Nationals. If they can get through that without their skull looking like a Picasso, there should be a welcoming 14-game stretch right after that is just Nationals and Marlins. The Phillies get their own date with the Dodgers this week and the Padres later, but the Braves will spend that time playing the Reds, Marlins, Nationals, and Orioles. If the Mets get seriously dinged by the NL West’s aristocracy, they could be four or five games back of two teams with only a month to go. And the wildcard is not going to be an available parachute unless the Padres all move to Ibiza together.
No team is going to just cruise through after losing a Cy Young lock and someone who was supposed to be an MVP competitor (who’s also not named the Dodgers). But this is getting away from the Mets in a hurry, and it might get worse before it gets better.