LOS ANGELES — If the gap between the Dodgers, who perennially contend for the postseason, and the Mets, who perennially think they’re going to contend for the postseason, wasn’t clear already, the seventh inning Tuesday night helped clarify.
The Dodgers plated six runs off two Mets pitchers on their way to an 11-4 win. The second of those runs, Manny Machado, scored from second on Corey Oswalt’s wild pitch, which caromed off the backstop and toward the Mets’ dugout, where catcher Kevin Plawecki chased it down. The last of those runs, Chris Taylor, hustled all the way from first to score on Yasmani Grandal’s single, a line drive that one-hopped the wall in the rightfield corner. Taylor punctuated his head-first slide with a push-up.
The sequence served as a lowlight for the Mets (62-76), who blew their chance to win a fourth game in a row — for what would have been the first time since May — in part because of a poor start from Jason Vargas. The Dodgers (76-63) remained half a game back of the Rockies in the NL West.
“You have to be almost perfect against this lineup,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “You have to play a clean game, you have to make all the plays, you have to make all the pitches. And we just didn’t do that tonight.”
In recent weeks, as Vargas fashioned a 1.99 ERA across four starts, he offered the Mets hope that he was the pitcher they thought — the one who was an All-Star in 2017, who has stuck around in the big leagues for 13 seasons, who could be relied on heading into the offseason.
His outing Tuesday did not contribute to that narrative in a positive manner. Hit hard and not helped by the team’s defense, Vargas allowed five runs (four earned) in 3 1/3 innings, his shortest outing not impacted by weather since June 19.
After cruising through the first two innings and being staked to a four-run lead via home runs by Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto off Rich Hill (six innings, four runs), Vargas began to lose it in the third, when Austin Barnes went deep on an 86-mph fastball left over the plate. When four of the first five Dodgers reached base in the fourth inning, Callaway chose not to let Vargas face the Los Angeles lineup for a third time.
“Not being able to get that low call, especially in that third inning and that fourth inning, [changed his outing],” Vargas said. “I thought there were some pretty good pitches that would have set some at-bats up differently and things just didn’t go our way after that. That happens, but as far as being able to command the ball down, I think that it just didn’t work to our favor because we weren’t able to get our calls to put us in the right situation.”
Righthander Eric Hanhold made his major-league debut, tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings — the only Mets pitcher on the night to toss at least an inning and not allow a run. Hanhold gave up a single, hit a batter with a pitch and recorded a strikeout.
Switch pitcher Pat Venditte recorded the final three outs for the Dodgers. He retired Jeff McNeil while throwing lefthanded, then Jose Reyes while throwing righthanded, then Michael Conforto, throwing lefthanded.
Bruce is hitting .270 with a .514 slugging percentage in 11 games since returning from the disabled list.
“I feel healthy, which is a big thing,” Bruce said. “I’m just going to try to throw good at-bats out there the rest of the year. I don’t know where it’ll end up. It’s not going to be a pretty picture when the year is over, I know that. But what can you do?
"You extrapolate these past  games and it’s kind of me for my career. I always want to get better, but I feel like I’m a pretty known commodity when I’m healthy. I expect that out of myself.”