CHICAGO — Two years ago, the Mets boasted a staff of young flamethrowers, a group that proved so formidable that it suffocated the Cubs in the National League Championship Series. It all feels like ancient history now.
The remnants of that Mets team endured a three-game humiliation at Wrigley Field this week, capped by a 14-6 loss to the Cubs Thursday night that reaffirmed the main culprit in this nightmare of a season.
The Mets’ pitching staff allowed 39 runs to the Cubs, the most in any three-game series in the history of the franchise.
“We certainly got them ready for the Cardinals,” manager Terry Collins said of the Cubs, who find themselves in a dogfight for the NL Central title partly because they have failed to hit.
As the Mets limp to the finish line, they must figure out how to revamp a pitching staff that might go down as one of the most deficient in club history.
The laundry list is long, beginning with Matt Harvey. One day after Harvey labeled his Wednesday night outing against the Cubs as “terrible” while lashing out about his maddening results, Collins rushed to support his battered player.
“It’s exactly what you want a player to do, stand up and be accountable,” Collins said. “Don’t make excuses. I admire that.”
But as the Mets sort out their pitching going into 2018, Collins insisted that Harvey begin the process of moving away from the anger he felt after the Cubs tagged him for five runs in 3 1⁄3 innings. “He’s down,” he said. “But I just told him to put a smile on his face and understand that he’s making progress.”
Of course, Harvey is one of several question marks in the rotation as the Mets head into the offseason, with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard the only arms who appear to be locks.
The Mets (63-83) must figure out the rest if they are to avoid a repeat of a season in which a vaunted pitching staff morphed into an injury-plagued liability.
DeGrom is the only pitcher to have logged more than 100 innings as a starter. Syndergaard threw a bullpen session yesterday and is expected to return before the end of the season from a torn lat muscle that has kept him out since April.
“We owe it to ourselves as an organization to say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to get Noah out there,’ ” Collins said. “Peace of mind for us, peace of mind for him.”
Peace of mind also is part of the reason that Seth Lugo will get starts even though he’s pitching with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow and is coming off a shoulder issue that forced him to miss two starts. He allowed eight runs in three innings-plus against the Cubs on Thursday night and will be capped at about 80 pitches per start as a precaution. “Why push it?’’ Collins said.
Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler had their seasons end prematurely with injuries. Matz had surgery to reposition a nerve in his left elbow and a stress injury forced Wheeler to be shut down and rested.
Robert Gsellman returned from a hamstring injury but has been inconsistent, leaving him on the fringes of the Mets’ plans.
General manager Sandy Alderson already has said the Mets will be in the market for a veteran starter, one with a track record of logging innings, part of an effort to shield the rotation from another nightmarish season of injuries.
Ultimately, the Mets need numbers, another reason that Harvey almost certainly will not be non-tendered in the offseason despite struggling as he works his way back from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. The results have been brutal. In his last three starts since coming off the disabled list with a stress injury in his shoulder, Harvey has a 12.19 ERA.
“I know what the results were,” Collins said. “But I’ll tell you something. I saw the ball come out of his hand a lot better last night than it did in any other start this year.”
Indeed, Harvey’s fastball touched 95 mph, up a tick from his previous efforts. He also showed flashes of command with his secondary offerings. But incremental steps were not enough, as evidenced by Harvey’s uncharacteristically blunt comments about himself.
“It signals that he’s a human being,” Collins said. “The Dark Knight is a human being underneath the mask and the cape and all the other things that you guys put on him.”
Notes & quotes: Amed Rosario and Travis d’Arnaud left in the fifth inning because of injuries. Rosario had left hip flexor tightness after a first-inning slide. D’Arnaud twisted his right knee when he lost his footing while making a throw . . . TJ Rivera had Tommy John surgery . . . The Mets traveled to Atlanta on Thursday night wearing brightly colored adult rompers, part of the annual rookie initiation. But this season, veteran players also wore the attire.