Mets starting pitcher Luis Severino delivers against the Astros during...

Mets starting pitcher Luis Severino delivers against the Astros during the second inning of an MLB game at Citi Field on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Grimace is a fun guy, but he can’t pitch. Not beyond the ceremonial sense, anyway.

And as these “OMG”-fueled Mets look to their immediate future, there’s a slight glitch when it comes to continuing this June revival into July: finding enough capable arms to keep Carlos Mendoza & Co. on a wild-card track for the second half, which is no guarantee at the season’s official halfway point.

While the Mets have bashed their way back into contention, relying on Francisco Lindor and J.D. Martinez to spark a resurgent lineup, a closer look reveals a pitching staff — rotation and relief corps both — that hasn’t performed like a team ready to qualify for October.

Sunday was a particularly gruesome late-inning lesson. Mark Vientos (two-run double) and Brandon Nimmo (two-run homer) rallied the Mets back from a 4-0 deficit to eventually tie the score in the seventh, two innings before a 2-hour, 47-minute rain delay. When play finally resumed, it ultimately was up to the freshly promoted Matt Festa, an emergency call-up from Triple-A Syracuse that morning, to handle the 11th inning, which was pretty much the worst-case scenario.

The Astros swung at just about every pitch Festa threw, piling up five runs and four hits, and the Mets lost a series for the first time in a month by virtue of the 10-5 defeat. Afterward, manager Carlos Mendoza described his pitching situation as “fluid” — and in the past two losses to Houston, it’s as if the bullpen has been doused in gasoline.

“We knew at some point we were going to be facing some adversity here,” Mendoza said. “We’ll be fine.”

Offensively, sure. Pitching-wise? That’s dicey.


The Mets got seven decent innings from Luis Severino — four runs on mostly soft contact — and couldn’t Scotch tape the rest of it together, although Adrian Houser, who flunked out of the rotation, is doing a solid job in his multiple-inning relief role.

Severino’s been a winter W for first-year president of baseball operations David Stearns, but everything else on the pitching side has felt like the patch job that it truly is, and the seams are wearing thin.

The Mets climbed off the mat after their May 29 postgame clubhouse meeting to go 18-8 since Jorge Lopez flung his glove into the Citi Field stands, but they’ve done a mediocre job throwing the baseball.

During this June rebound, the Mets’ staff has been middle of the pack with a 4.12 ERA that ranks 16th in the majors, a 1.26 WHIP that’s 17th and an abysmal 3.66 BB/9 rate that sits 28th. Not helping matters is the rotation’s length actually shrinking as the wins have piled up, with Mets starters lasting an average of 5.2 innings, a few ticks below their 5.3 overall mark for the season.

In other words, this isn’t just a bullpen problem. It’s a staff-synergy thing.

Obviously, the relief corps has taken the brunt of the criticism lately, and Edwin Diaz deservedly is wearing the biggest bull’s-eye, as his disappointing return from knee surgery dovetailed into last week’s 10-game sticky-stuff suspension.

Navigating this pieced-together bullpen, currently down a roster spot during Diaz’s ban, is akin to a nightly Jenga game for Mendoza. It’s no one’s fault that Brooks Raley and Drew Smith were lost for the season because of elbow surgery. Stuff happens. Raley was a significant dent, and despite Smith’s spotty resume, he was a placeholder who was buying time as Stearns scoured different avenues for an upgrade.

With the trade deadline still a month away, the Mets will be treading water en route to the All-Star break. They have 14 games in the next 14 days and Diaz won’t be eligible to return until Saturday’s matinee against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. As of Sunday, Mendoza had listed Wednesday’s starter in D.C. as TBA, as it hinges on the shape of the staff when the date arrives.

“Where we are bullpen-wise is day-to-day,” a grinning Mendoza said. “We have Plan A, B and C, then we will adjust accordingly.”

Ideally, Mendoza’s rotation options should improve in the second half, based on the assumption that Kodai Senga eventually will come off the injured list. Senga threw a bullpen session before Sunday’s game, and if he wakes up fine, the Mets expect him to begin a rehab stint later this week. If everything goes smoothly from there — and that’s a big if — Senga could be back in the neighborhood of Aug. 1.

By that time, in front-office-speak, Senga will become the equivalent of a trade deadline pickup. And if the rotation is still intact (again, put the “if’’ in all caps), Senga’s return could create bullpen help by bumping someone else — Tylor Megill, Jose Butto, Christian Scott or David Peterson — to relief duty. It depends on who’s pitching well and the best fit once that date arrives. Or perhaps Stearns can pull off an impact trade before then, grabbing someone from fire sale teams such as the Marlins, Angels or Rockies.

This weekend series may have kicked off with Jose Iglesias’ flash “OMG” concert, but it ended with a cry for help. And from a pitching perspective, we’d expect that to only get louder in the stressful days ahead.


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