LOS ANGELES — Still trying to find themselves with six weeks and a couple of days left in the season, the Mets at least know their formula for failure: minimal hitting, less-than-dominant pitching.
That was what they got again Thursday night in a 4-1 loss to the Dodgers, the opener of a four-game series — and the second weekend in a row they have to play the defending World Series champions.
On the hitting side, they managed six hits and no walks against a series of seven relievers. On the pitching side, Taijuan Walker gave up four runs and six hits in six innings, which was not good enough to carry the ineffective lineup.
A sixth loss in seven games dropped the Mets (60-61) to a season-high five games behind NL East-leading Atlanta, which was idle. They’re also six games behind the Padres for the final NL wild-card spot, with three other teams in between them.
"These things can build up. Sometimes it can destroy a team," manager Luis Rojas said. "That’s where leaders of the group [and] myself have to come in and make sure that doesn’t happen. This is a big challenge that we’re going through right now.
"We’re going through stress that we haven’t gone through throughout the entire season. We found our ways to prevent bad streaks from happening. We’re struggling especially in one area [hitting] more than others, but the guys have been frustrated after some losses we’ve had, for sure."
Amid their season-long offensive struggles, the Mets often have bemoaned getting unlucky — hitting a rocketed line drive, for example, right at a defender. This time, that actually was true.
The Mets hit 11 balls at 100 mph or faster — which is to say, they hit them very hard. Six of them, however, turned into outs.
"There’s one, two, maybe three plays that made the difference in this game," said J.D. Davis, who drove in the Mets’ only run with a double in the fourth. "Once again."
So it went for the Mets, who were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. One of those was Dominic Smith’s soft lineout to Trea Turner, who was in shallow rightfield. Davis had taken off from second base on contact and easily was doubled off to end the inning.
All that came against the Los Angeles bullpen. Corey Knebel (2.61 ERA) began the game, working around Pete Alonso’s 118-mph single in a scoreless inning. Then came Evan Phillips (3.38), Victor Gonzalez (3.63), Phil Bickford (2.39), Brusdar Graterol (4.41), Alex Vesia (2.60) and Blake Treinen (1.88).
"That bullpen over there is electric," Davis said.
The Dodgers putting such a workload on their relievers in the first of four games might be a gift for the Mets. The next two days, however, they go up against two of Los Angeles’ aces: Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer.
"They’re hurting a little bit out there in that bullpen. That puts a little bit more pressure on the starters to go out there and have a quality start against us," Davis said. "One of the game plans against Walker is we’re going to try to grind out at-bats, get that pitch count up and get back into that bullpen."
Taijuan Walker’s outing was far less effective than the one he had last weekend, when he held the Dodgers hitless into the seventh inning.
In the second, Corey Seager worked a leadoff walk and Will Smith doubled, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Both scored on ground balls to the right side of the infield.
With two outs in the fifth, Billy McKinney — who was the Mets’ everyday rightfielder for parts of May and June when Michael Conforto was injured — had a pinch-hit RBI double to left-center. He scored on Turner’s hard ground-ball single up the middle.
"I kept the same game plan, it worked again," Walker said. "I threw the ball really well. They got some infield hits that led to four runs. But I thought I threw the ball really well."