One of the two teams playing at Citi Field early this week is supposed to represent the bottom of the NL East, the guys who were counted out by just about every preseason prognostication. For some, they could be considered a respite in the schedule – fodder to climb on the way to September relevancy.
Despite what everyone saw on Tuesday and Wednesday, the other team was the Mets.
The Mets suffered their second disastrous day in a row to the lowly Nationals Wednesday, struggling in just about every way en route to a 4-1 loss in Flushing, their season-high fourth in a row. They didn’t hit well, they didn’t pitch well, and they really, really didn’t field well.
They committed three errors while stranding eight men on base and going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The Mets have been outscored 9-1 over two games against one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball and have scored one run in 21 innings. They’ve also struck out 28 times in two games (15 Wednesday) despite entering the day with 180 strikeouts, fourth-fewest in baseball.
“There’s an ebb and flow to seasons and the last games haven't been a good flow for us,” Buck Showalter said. The Mets, who started as one of the best fielding teams in baseball, have also committed four errors in two games, bringing their season total to 10, “and that’s the thing that’s been disappointing for us,” Showalter said. “It’s something that we’ve been really good at and the last couple games haven’t been indicative of what one of our strengths are.”
Kodai Senga was wild – nearly to the point of oblivion – but managed to keep the Mets in it, allowing two runs on five hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. The first 11 of the 14 pitches he threw were out of the strike zone (though one was generously called a strike). MacKenzie Gore, meanwhile, struck out 10 over six innings, allowing one run on four hits.
The top six hitters in the Mets lineup went 1-for-19 with a walk and eight strikeouts. Down 3-1 with the tying runs on and no outs in the seventh, Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor all faltered - Nimmo grounded out before Marte and Lindor struck out.
“It could be a byproduct of a lot of things,” Lindor said of their hitting woes. “It could be mechanical, it could be mental, it could be timing, it could be you just didn’t see it in that moment, or the baseball did something extra…but we’ve been a group that’s been able to turn the page quick.”
Senga allowed the first four batters to reach in the second on a walk, a double, and softly-hit RBI singles from Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams. He struck out Victor Robles and Alex Call, though, and would have struck out Luis Garcia had an apparent strike-three cutter not been called a ball. After walking Garcia, he struck out Jeimer Candelario swinging on a forkball in the dirt.
Somehow, Senga didn’t let up anything more than that. On a day where the ghost fork looked far from supernatural, he nonetheless topped out at 97.7 on his fastball and got two key double plays, eventually settling back into the strike zone and walking just one of the last 15 batters he faced. For Senga (3-1, 4.15 ERA), it was the first loss of his major-league career.
The Mets got as close as 2-1 in the third, when Escobar lined a ball to right-center that was misplayed by Robles for a leadoff triple and came home on Marte's single, but the Nationals got that cushion back when Candelario homered off Jeff Brigham in the seventh to make it 3-1. Adam Ottavino let up an RBI single to Call in the eighth for the final margin.
Senga said he didn’t command his forkball, or any of his pitches, the way he wanted to — at least not at first. Showalter added that when Senga doesn’t look like he can throw that forkball in the zone, hitters can take it out of the equation. Only one of of the 20 forkballs Senga threw was firmly in the zone.
“It’s no different than in Japan,” Senga said through an interpreter. “If it’s not executed, they’re not going to swing at it. It’s nothing to fret about. If I can execute it, they’re probably going to swing at it.”