It was over in a second.
More than just the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers was over when former New York Mets third baseman Justin Turner—the third batter of the game—lined a full-count slider into the bleachers Sunday night at Citi Field. In the first inning of a crucial August game, all the fan goodwill that was accrued throughout Steve Cohen's first half-season of ownership was gone, and the Mets' playoff dreams were likely over at that moment as well.
New Dodgers ace Max Scherzer did what he was acquired to do, as he helped his new team defeat an old rival, sending the Mets deeper into a spiral they cannot seem to get out of. The team that was in first place in the NL East for much of the season—and talked a big game about being in first place in the NL East, the worst division in baseball—is falling further and further away from that spot, and further and further away from a Wild Card playoff spot, too.
The Dodgers throttled the Mets 14-4. Not one, but two position players pitched the ninth inning for the home team. The Mets have lost seven of their past 10 games. Only one game above .500 (59-58), they're playing their worst baseball at the most crucial time of the year.
The Mets, and Cohen, have made it clear they want to be an East Coast version of the Dodgers. But a sweep at the hands of the team they want to emulate shows how far they have to go—both on the field and in the front office.
To be fair, the Mets are held together by bubblegum and duct tape right now. They're without several pitchers, including ace Jacob deGrom. They're without the power-hitting shortstop they signed to a decade-long contract (Francisco Lindor), and they're without the replacement they acquired at the trade deadline to play his position while he's injured (Javier Baez).
But putting aside the bad luck with Baez, the front office should have planned for this. Acting general manager Zack Scott and president of baseball operations Sandy Alderson should have done more to fortify this roster, especially the starting staff. They brought in Trevor Williams to help the bullpen and Rich Hill to fill a hole in the rotation, but instead of bringing in another big arm they banked on a return from Carlos Carrasco and a possible return from Noah Syndergaard.
"I would say if we had weaknesses in the first 100 games of the season, it was, one, inconsistent starting pitching, just because we had holes to fill every three or four days, and the second would be our offense against left-handed pitching, and we've certainly addressed one of those issues with Baez," Alderson said after the deadline. "And with respect to the pitching holes that we've had, we've got Carrasco pitching tonight, we got Rich Hill and while that might not be a Jacob deGrom or a Jose Berrios, we're comfortable with what we currently have as we move into those last 60 games."
Carrasco has returned, but he hasn't exactly returned to form. He lasted just two innings Sunday night and exited with the Mets down 6-0. As it turns out, he isn't the ace in a hole the Mets were counting on.
But Carrasco's exit was overshadowed by the questionable managerial move Luis Rojas made to pull him from the game. Rojas let Carrasco hit for himself in the bottom of the second but then used Jake Reed to pitch the third. Reed pitched about as well as the Mets could have hoped, but it was an opportunity squandered with two on and one out just to save a bench hitter in what was already a blowout.
The Mets need all the offense they can get right now. They rank toward the bottom of the league in OPS, slugging, runs and BABIP.
The Mets rallied to score some runs late on Friday night, but they ultimately fell short. In the second game of the series, they wasted a brilliant start by Taijaun Walker, their All-Star pitcher who had been struggling since the All-Star Game (0-4 with a 9.86 ERA in five starts).
In the series finale, they battled Scherzer and made him throw a lot of extra pitches. Los Angeles had some strange defensive shifts and made some stranger defensive plays—like when Corey Seager missed a tag on Jonathan Villar at second base and threw to first with Reed safely on base instead of throwing to third to get Villar in a rundown—but the Mets still couldn’t take advantage.
New York was 2-for-29 with runners in scoring position for the series. Rojas said he's been actively involved with the hitting coaches and the drills and processes they're using to try to squeeze some offense out of these once-talented hitters. He believes something will work at some point, but nothing is working at the moment.
"We're doing everything in the book to get these guys going with the bats," Rojas said.
Max Muncy homered twice on Sunday night alone, and Will Smith homered in each of the three games played over the weekend weekend to help the Dodgers complete their sweep. Meanwhile, the Mets' James McCann has three homers since June 29, and Michael Conforto and Dom Smith each have only three at home this season.
If it isn't one problem, it's another. The opportunity to fix these problems has now passed, and the Mets have an unenviable schedule coming up: They face the league-best San Francisco Giants on the road starting Monday, the Dodgers again next weekend in Los Angeles for a four-game set and then welcome the Giants to Citi Field. That's 10 straight games—13 if you count this past series—against the two best teams in baseball.
Scott said he was cognizant about not wanting to disrupt the clubhouse chemistry. It's fine to have that concern, but opting not to help the club because of it is a different—and arguably larger—problem.
And while chemistry certainly helps aid in winning, ultimately it's not the only factor. Chemistry can't pitch in place of deGrom, nor can it help Conforto hit a baseball over the fence at the rate he used to.
There is still hope because the division remains the league's worst, meaning first place is still attainable even for a team 2.5 games out facing a daunting schedule. There is still hope deGrom and Lindor will return, and there is still hope because there are six weeks left in the season.
Ya gotta believe, right?
Anything can happen in the playoffs, but the Mets have to get there first. And right now, the hope is starting to fade. Bad decisions, bad outings and bad days at the plate make it hard for fans to see the finish line, despite the eternal optimism of Pete Alonso.
Sunday night, all it took was one ex-Met to doom the new Mets, who still seem to look and function a lot like the old ones.