With scoreboard-watching season in full effect and the countdown to October dipping under the three-week mark, the Mets qualify as a wild card in the wild-card race, if you will, their path to the postseason unlikely but possible — perhaps surprisingly so.
That became more difficult Monday with a sleepy 7-0 loss to the Cardinals, but the Mets remain among the five teams competing for the last National League playoff berth. They are 3 1⁄2 games behind the Reds, who hold the second wild card, and also trail the Padres, Cardinals and Phillies.
Fortunately for the Mets, they host the Cardinals through Wednesday and the Phillies this weekend, putting their fate somewhat in their own hands.
"Everybody is very aware," Rich Hill said, "of where we are."
Fifteen years after they authored iconic moments in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets, Adam Wainwright (six scoreless innings) and Yadier Molina (3-for-5) again were major contributors Monday.
"Those two guys, they just pair up so well," manager Luis Rojas said. "The mix of his pitches, his pitch ability and Yadier Molina behind home plate pairing up with him, that’s what kept us quiet tonight."
Paul Goldschmidt was 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs. The Cardinals (74-69) blew it open with four runs in the ninth against Yennsy Diaz.
The Mets, meanwhile, seemed hung over after an emotional, chaotic, successful weekend against the Yankees. They totaled six hits. In the eighth inning, trailing by three, they had runners at the corners with nobody out, but Pete Alonso, Javier Baez and Jeff McNeil struck out against Alex Reyes.
Hill allowed three runs in five innings, putting him on the losing end of the first 40-and-over starting pitching matchup since 2015.
"I put us in a pretty crappy position," he said. "That falls on me. Just no excuses. You gotta pitch better than that."
The Mets (72-73) have hovered around .500 for about a month, so it might seem silly to talk about the playoffs, especially given that they’re 5 1⁄2 games behind NL East-leading Atlanta. They have shown little to prove that they deserve it or are capable of stringing together enough high-quality games to overcome these long odds.
But the other contending clubs aren’t exactly in a power position, either.
San Diego has an obscenely difficult remaining schedule, including nine games against the Giants and three against the Dodgers. Already beleaguered by pitcher injuries, the Padres lost Blake Snell to a groin issue over the weekend.
Cincinnati has a far easier slate the rest of the way — hello, Pirates (nine games) and Nationals (four games) — but has struggled lately and has an unreliable bullpen. It is awaiting the return of Jesse Winker, who has been on the injured list for almost a month with an intercostal strain.
Then there are offensively inconsistent St. Louis and Mets-style mess Philadelphia, whom the Mets can handle themselves this week.
And so they will pursue a chance to face, probably, the Dodgers and Max Scherzer in the NL wild-card game in Los Angeles on Oct. 6.
With occasional peeks at the standings along the way.
"The focus is here, on our game. Then after our game is done, we look at where we stand and get ready for next game," Rojas said before the game. "We weren’t scoreboard-watching [Sunday], we weren’t thinking about this series against the Cardinals, we weren’t thinking about the series against the Phillies or the amount of games we have left. We gotta keep it that way. If we change, there’s a bad thing called anxiety that’s going to take over in the clubhouse. We don’t need that."
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