What was a six-month marathon of a baseball season is about to become a two-week sprint for a National League wild card berth, and the Mets are going to need quite the kick.
Their difficult weekend became more so Friday night when they lost, 9-2, in the opener of a three-game set against the two-time defending National League champion Dodgers, who already have clinched their seventh consecutive NL West title.
That loss, paired with the Braves’ win over the Nationals, officially eliminated the Mets (76-71) from contention in the NL East. They are three games behind the Cubs, two games behind the Brewers and a half-game behind the Phillies in the race for the second wild card.
“It’s the elephant in the room. We all keep track of the opposing teams, who is in the hunt and who is not,” J.D. Davis said. “We can’t say we aren’t. We’d be lying. But the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves. You can sit there and worry about the Cubs, you can worry about Milwaukee [one game behind the Cubs], but if we’re not winning games, it’s pointless.”
For the Mets, a visit from the Dodgers is a hassle in that they need as many wins as possible, and facing the best of the best doesn’t help. But it is a chance to instill a bit of fear in the Dodgers, the Mets’ likely Division Series opponent if they can snag a playoff spot and win the wild card game. Nobody wants to face a rotation led by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in a five-game series.
Syndergaard, though, didn’t do his part in instilling fear or winning a game Friday.
Pitching to Wilson Ramos, his least favorite Mets catcher, he allowed four runs, five hits and two walks in five innings. He struck out four batters, his fewest in more than a month. For the first time since July 24, he threw more than 100 pitches (102).
“It wasn’t terrible,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
All four runs came in the fourth. MVP candidate Cody Bellinger worked a 10-pitch walk and A.J. Pollock squeaked an RBI single up the middle between Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, but the big blow came from rookie Gavin Lux, who crushed a three-run home run to straightaway center.
That all came in the context of an ugly week for Syndergaard, Ramos and the Mets, who provided several days of headlines after Syndergaard last weekend re-expressed his unhappiness about pitching to Ramos.
Syndergaard (10-8) has a 5.20 ERA in 16 games with Ramos this season. With defensively superior backups Tomas Nido and Rene Rivera, whom Syndergaard strongly prefers, he has a 2.22 ERA in 11 games.
But the Mets stuck with Syndergaard-Ramos because, Callaway said, they believe they need Ramos’ bat in the lineup.
“We were really meshing and flowing out there,” Syndergaard said. “A step in the right direction in building a strong relationship. I look forward to many more outings with him.”
Callaway added: “I thought they did fine. It seemed like the rhythm was good, and except for two pitches, it seemed to work out pretty good.”
After Davis tagged Clayton Kershaw for a homer (for the second time this season) in the first inning, Kershaw (14-5) largely cruised, allowing two runs in 6 1⁄3 innings. He entered the game with a 5.73 ERA in his previous four starts.
As Callaway put it, “We’ve been better.”