Keidel: This Is The Stumble Mets Couldn't Afford

Team Needed Herculean Effort To Overcome Hole It Dug

Jason Keidel
August 30, 2019 - 12:50 pm
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This is what sports do to us, and what the Mets do to you. 

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The Chicago Cubs, whom the Mets destroyed in the 2015 National League Championship Series, came back to Flushing and flushed the Mets down the toilet of contention. It may not be mathematically over, but it feels and reads and looks like the end. 

A shame this enchanted run didn't end earlier, when they were just one game out of the wild-card spot, when our minds still saw big deeds in long sleeves under brown leaves. The Mets were on a 27-10 tear -- including a 15-1 run -- and tickling the playoffs. Today they are the forlorn fathers of a six-game slide and have seen their playoff deficit mushroom to five games, with five total teams ahead of them and more murderous baseball on the horizon.  

Now the Mets are all but finished, like that last, sour hour in a bar that closes in 20 minutes. The lights are on. The jukebox is off. The chairs have been flipped onto the tables. But some poor sap is still brooding into his beer, refusing to concede the time or the situation.

The Mets' Michael Conforto is tagged out by the Cubs' Addison Russell on an attempted steal during the sixth inning on Aug. 29, 2019.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

This space said that August would all but make or break these Mets, who fell into the volcano's hole of their schedule. If a six-game plunge isn't bad enough, the Mets play their next nine against the Phillies and Nationals. Even worse, the Mets play their next 16 games against clubs ahead of them in the standings. 

It's hard to say what's in a man's heart. But it doesn't feel like this team lost its will as much as it lost its way. The club spent so much energy getting within a whisker of a playoff berth, it couldn't keep up, or maintain its momentum. 

If this is it for the Mets, it's fitting that they were crushed by the twin pillars of their pitching. Noah Syndergaard had allowed one home run and 11 earned runs over 54 innings since the All-Star break. Then in his last start, he allowed three homers and nine earned runs over three innings. Even Jacob deGrom, fresh off one of the greatest pitching seasons in history, ended a streak of 17 straight starts allowing three or fewer runs. The Cubs even blasted multiple homers off the Cy Young winner, the first such feat against deGrom since June 18. And both round-trippers were drilled by a backup named Victor Caratini. The Mets were also swept in consecutive home series for the first time in almost 15 months. 

The reason this run was so improbable to begin with — and almost impossible to end in the postseason — is because the Mets were so bad for so long that it took a Herculean feat just to squeeze back into contention. So when they inevitably stumbled, they couldn't afford it. When the Yankees lost four straight and five of seven, it was just a speed bump in their romp to October. The Yanks have long had an eight- to 10-game bulge in the American League East, so getting swept in Oakland was an eyesore, not an omen. 

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Making things even worse is the fact that the Mets were wonderful at home most of the season -- 37-21 before being swept by the Braves -- while the Cubs were 16-32 in nighttime road games before they whipped the Mets three times at Citi Field. 

Maybe it's fitting that the Mets got their death blow at home, as the only team in town playing Thursday night. The Yankees were off, yet it felt like they won another game. The Mets were on the schedule, but way off everywhere else. If you feel the need to wait until the last series of the season, keep in mind they play three games against the Braves, with an 11-5 record against the Mets this season, and seemingly every season since 1995. 

There are no variables, no profound questions to ask. The Mets were largely healthy and playing their best baseball in years, and they had an excellent pitching matchup for this vital series. Even Jon Lester puffed out his chest and lauded his teammates for beating Marcus Stroman, Syndergaard and deGrom.

"That's the big thing for us," said Lester. “It's a big confidence booster for our hitters."

For the Mets, it's something else.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel