Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe it’s best to get this up-close look at what varsity baseball looks like so the Mets have a clear and unambiguous picture of just how far they need to go before they get to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best teams in baseball.
The Dodgers provided the lesson this weekend, figuring out ways to win a couple of extra-inning games and then delivering the jaw-breaker Sunday night, a game that ended 14-4 but was over within about five minutes of Carlos Carrasco jogging out to the mound. The Giants are up next. That tutorial figures to be even less pleasant.
And after that there’s seven more against L.A. and San Francisco.
Yes. End the folly now. The Mets have been propped up for months by the sketchy neighborhood in which they reside, an NL East in which everyone is flawed and so everyone believed they had a shot at the trophy. But even that mirage is evaporating now that the Braves are 10-2 for their last 12, with a lot softer schedule awaiting them.
How bad was Sunday night? It was this bad: the Dodgers kicked the ball around like the ’62 Mets for a good chunk of the night and still had plenty to pulverize the ’21 Mets, who fell behind early and then fell into the familiar rut of one noncompetitive at-bat after another, complemented by a parade of one uninspiring relief pitcher after another.
It was nothing surprising out of this year’s Mets, who have been laborious to watch from the start even in triumph, who have seen too many of their alleged front-line players – Michael Conforto, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, Dom Smith – all perform well below basic expectations this year. The sharper Mets fans understand this, which is why Citi Field has become a glee club of boos the last few weeks. They know better than to blame the IL.
Of course, those same fans also knew better than to believe the Mets when they talked about the marvelous chemistry they’ve exhibited all year, as if they were some New Age version of the Gashouse Gang. Again: in a division with a legit front-runner, none of this would have even been part of the conversation. They are one game over .500. And lucky to be there.
“You’ve seen the guys’ attitude, how neutral they stay,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “I have no concerns about our energy level. We’ll show up every day with high energy.”
That’s swell. But will they ever show up again understanding how to play winning baseball? For 90 straight days, the standings insisted they were a first-place team even if eyes and common sense insisted otherwise. It is still impossible to officially declare them dead because even as they fly off to what is almost certain to be a slasher-film of a week in California they are only two games behind the Braves in the loss column.
But to expect something different across the last 45 games of the season is to take on faith that five important things are about to happen as soon as the Mets’ charter touches down at San Francisco International.
1. The offense, somnambulant and inept all year, will suddenly receive a burst of oxygen.
2. The deGrom-less rotation and the gassed bullpen will rise to a level we haven’t seen out of either in more than a month.
3. Rojas will start to understand that there must occasionally be some urgency attached to his thinking, that you can’t always be more interested in tomorrow or next week than right now — which will likely turn out to be his fatal flaw as a skipper.
4. The Braves and Phillies will revert to the charitable way they both played from April through July.
5. this West Coast trip, which sure seems ticketed for 1-6 or 0-7, has a surprise or three lying in wait.
No, if it is impossible to officially declare the Mets dead at this moment simply, allow them to keep doing it for us, to keep playing the mostly lifeless, uninspired baseball we’ve come to expect out of them since they were 35-25 on June 16. The record is 24-33 since. It is 12-18 since the All-Star break. It is 3-14 in the past three weeks against teams that aren’t the stripped-for-parts Nationals.
And now the varsity awaits in California. Maybe it’s better this way. No need to lose any extra sleep over a lost cause.
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