Jacob deGrom of the Mets walks to the dugout after the...

Jacob deGrom of the Mets walks to the dugout after the sixth inning against the Cubs at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

For a while now, the Mets have lived in the seemingly impervious bubble of a team all but guaranteed to make the playoffs. Atlanta isn’t going away any time soon, but September, with its cushy schedule and the expected return of a few key players, had all the makings of a postseason tuneup.

Kick the tires. Change the oil. Get ready for October.

Wait. Is that a check-engine light?

The Mets wasted Jacob deGrom’s start Tuesday and remained mired in offensive futility, producing very little against the lowly Cubs and falling, 4-1, at Citi Field, to drop the first two games of the series.

In an ongoing stretch of 16 straight games against sub-.500 teams, they are 5-6 and, just as worrisome, they’ve scored three runs or fewer in all those losses. Despite facing a team that came into the day with the sixth-worst ERA in the National League (4.28), the Mets have scored only three runs in 18 innings.

“Finishing off a good season is really challenging,” Buck Showalter said. “You see the finish line. You’re trying to get there and you sometimes get away from the things that got you there and the other team sometimes doesn’t cooperate.”

The Mets ended their night white-knuckling into a half-game division lead over Atlanta, which won its late game in San Francisco.

 

The Mets' offense managed just two singles, both from Jeff McNeil, against starter Adrian Sampson (2-6). Luis Guillorme got an eighth-inning single but went nowhere and the Mets finally scored on Pete Alonso’s 34th homer in the ninth, a shot into the second deck.

DeGrom (5-2) allowed three runs, all earned, and four hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts in six innings, marking his fourth double-digit strikeout game this year. He has 56 total, four shy of Tom Seaver’s franchise record. DeGrom matched the mark for most consecutive starts allowing three earned runs or fewer — tied at 39 with Jim Scott, who did it in 1914; DeGrom is 19-6 in that stretch.

The Mets came inches away from taking a lead in the first when, with McNeil on first and two outs, Alonso hit a long drive to left that veered inches foul, a ball so close to a homer that he was well into his trot around the bases when he was called back.

“It’s a frustrating night,” Alonso said, adding there were a few close calls. “That’s baseball. Sometimes it happens. It’s a game of inches and when you combine those things together, it doesn’t go your way . . . We’ve been a really good team all year. We’ve earned what we’ve gotten.”

Alonso eventually walked, but Sampson retired a slumping Daniel Vogelbach on a groundout. Vogelbach, acquired at the trade deadline as one of the Mets’ answers to their designated hitter quandary, is 5-for-42 (.119) with one RBI and no extra-base hits in his last 16 games.

The Cubs scored the first run on Ian Happ’s second-inning homer and two more in the fourth. After the first two batters reached on singles, Michael Hermosillo bunted a ball in front of the plate, and James McCann’s throw hit him in the back — causing Showalter to argue that because Hermosillo was on the grass when he was hit, he should be out.

The umpire disagreed and the next batter, Yan Gomes, hit a sacrifice fly to right to score the first run and advance the secondary runner. Next, Patrick Wisdom bunted toward a charging Alonso, whose throw home was too late.

Seth Lugo allowed a solo home run to David Botte with two outs in the seventh.

Still, deGrom said there was no reason for concern.

“A few rough games but we’ll be OK,” he said. “These guys do a good job of flushing it and coming ready to play, so I think we’ll be fine.”