ATLANTA — Not all series splits are created equal, and the one the Mets ended up with after a 7-3 loss to the Braves on Sunday night was the bad kind.
Heading to SunTrust Park for the start of their season series against the defending NL East champions, the Mets won the first two games, parlaying significant offensive outputs with good enough pitching to dispatch the Braves with relative ease.
But after a Jason Vargas-induced loss Saturday, the Mets missed out on a series win Sunday when ace Jacob deGrom lasted only five innings and the beleaguered bullpen couldn’t keep it close enough.
And so the Mets head to Philadelphia for a three-game set with the Phillies, knowing that this mediocre weekend could have been a sweet one.
“We’re not satisfied with that,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s a split, and we have to move on. Now we’re focused on Philly. We’re going to get in late and get our rest and come out [Monday] and try to win a series.”
Remarkably, deGrom was unremarkable for a second start in a row. He allowed three runs — two on solo homers — in five innings, struggling with a high pitch count all night and retiring the side in order just once. DeGrom (2-2) struck out nine and walked four. His ERA is 3.68.
He has given up five home runs this season, all in his past two starts. Last year, he didn’t allow his fifth until June 23 and allowed 10 in 217 innings.
“I’m not throwing the ball where I want,” he said. “That tends to happen when you do that.”
Callaway chose to credit the Braves. “They did a great job of running his pitch count up,” he said. “Spoiling a lot of pitches and fouling a lot of balls off. They made us work tonight. They made us throw a ton of pitches.”
Nick Markakis reached deGrom first, blasting a slider into the rightfield seats in the second. The next inning, Ronald Acuña Jr. capitalized on Wilson Ramos’ error — Ozzie Albies stole second and moved to third when the throw skipped into center — by singling to right, bringing in Albies.
Josh Donaldson homered to lead off the bottom of the fifth on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, moments after laying off a two-strike slider outside and fouling off two others. After having no homers and no RBIs in his first 13 games, Donaldson went deep two nights in a row.
Neither Callaway nor deGrom saw or sensed that deGrom might have been tipping his pitches, they said. But deGrom’s back-to-back duds are enough to inspire an unusual step in search of a correction. Typically video-averse, deGrom said he plans to compare this game to outings from last year.
“I look every once in a while, but I don’t get in there and study it a whole lot,” he said. “I felt great my first two starts, so I don’t think it’s something that’s too far off. I’m just not locating the ball right now.”
Julio Teheran, whom the Braves once thought would be the kind of high-end pitcher that deGrom has become, was the better pitcher this time. He overcame early issues, including a line-drive homer by J.D. Davis in the second, to settle in for six innings of one-run ball.
Teheran’s effort meant an Atlanta win, especially on a night when deGrom wasn’t his usual dominant self.
“I have five days,” he said, “to figure it out.”