It has been 10 days since Mets general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged a bitter reality, signaling to all of baseball that he’d be willing to entertain trade offers for some of his veteran players.
Yet even as they reached the halfway point of a disappointing season with a forgettable 7-1 loss to the Phillies at Citi Field on Sunday, the Mets still find themselves on the fringe of contention. Despite failing to complete a three-game series sweep of the Phillies, the Mets enter Monday night’s series opener against the Nationals as winners of seven of their last nine games.
“When you go on a little streak or a little run like that, it gives you a little bit of a belief that we can play good baseball together,” said T.J. Rivera, who homered for a second consecutive day.
His solo shot constituted the Mets’ only offense against Nick Pivetta on Sunday. In seven strong innings, the 24-year-old righthander baffled a Mets lineup that was missing Curtis Granderson because of hip soreness.
Mets righthander Rafael Mon tero allowed four runs in the second inning, the only damage against him in an outing in which he lasted 6 1⁄3 innings.
He didn’t get much help from his defense. One of those runs came when Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp scored from second base on a wild pitch that catcher Rene Rivera couldn’t find.
“He gave us a chance to get back in that game,” Terry Collins said of Montero. “We just didn’t do it.”
With that, the Mets saw their winning streak snapped at four games.
Through 81 games — the precise halfway point of the season — the Mets (38-43) are 9 1⁄2 games behind the NL East-leading Nationals and 8 1⁄2 games out of a playoff spot. They remain far from the heights they had expected in spring training, with a disabled list swelling with stars such as Noah Syndergaard, and the odds of a turnaround remain slim.
The upcoming three-game set against the Nationals begins the final stretch before the All-Star break. It’s a critical period that could give the Mets hope of hanging around or hasten Alderson’s efforts to sell off pieces before the July 31 trade deadline.
Though they have retained their grip on first place, the Nationals have looked wobbly. In what has been a difficult week, they have dealt with recurring bullpen issues and lost Trea Turner to injury. Before Sunday night’s victory over the Cardinals, the Nationals had dropped five of seven.
Those developments haven’t gone unnoticed in the Mets’ clubhouse.
“For sure, we pay more attention to our division because we have to,” Rene Rivera said. “They’ve lost some guys, the bullpen is vulnerable to giving up runs. We just have to go out there and compete.”
A turnaround from Yoenis Cespedes would make that task easier. Since June 23, when he went 3-for-5 with a double and a homer, he is 4-for-29 with no extra-base hits.
“It just tells you he’s human, and every guy that’s ever played this game is going to go through a bad streak,” Collins said. “And he is right now.”
But pitching-wise, the Mets line up well in Washington. In Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Jacob deGrom, the Mets will send out three pitchers who have helped to stabilize a struggling starting rotation.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Collins said. “But there’s no reason why you can’t be optimistic and think you’re going to have a good second half.”