ST. LOUIS — Throughout the clubhouse Sunday afternoon, there were signs of what these Mets have become. Much of it was not flattering.
There was the pitcher, Steven Matz, trying to explain why he fumed after being pulled from his first poor start of the season. There was the slugger, Yoenis Cespedes, declining to answer questions about his horrid slump for the second straight day. And there was the manager, Terry Collins, noting his team’s lack of energy in a 6-0 loss to the Cardinals to end a dismal first half of the season.
“I don’t see it,” said rightfielder Jay Bruce, bristling at the notion of going through the motions. “That’s his opinion. I respect that if he thinks that.”
Regardless of perceptions about the energy level, an overarching reality settled upon the Mets’ final game before the All-Star break. Their only path to October is near-perfection, which they seem ill-equipped to reach.
“We’re not hitting, we’re not pitching,” Collins said. “When you don’t pitch, the games are ugly. When you don’t hit, they look even worse.”
The Mets reached the break 39-47, losers of five of their last six. They have not been over .500 since April 19 and have not been at the break-even point since May 9. They are 12 games behind the NL East-leading Nationals and 10 1⁄2 games out in the race for the second wild card. Baseball Prospectus estimates their chances of reaching the playoffs at 4.3 percent.
“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Bruce said. “It’s an uphill battle.”
On Sunday, the Mets delivered a performance worthy of those probabilities. They mustered only three hits against Lance Lynn and two relievers and have scored one run in their last two games.
Matz had been a model of consistency since coming back from the elbow injury that sidelined him for much of the first half, but he was chased after allowing five runs in 4 1⁄3 innings.
“It was just poorly executed pitches, and they capitalized on them,” said Matz, who looked frustrated with himself as he left the game and threw his glove into the bench when he reached the dugout. “That’s really what it came down to.”
Matz (2-2, 3.05) pitched at least six innings in each of his previous five starts and began the day with a scoreless streak of 17 innings. That streak ended in the first.
“You’re not going to be great every time out,” Collins said. “Of all the times so far that he’s pitched, today was the one day that he didn’t have his stuff, especially his command.”
The Mets have resisted promoting top prospect Amed Rosario, partly for fear of putting pressure on him to turn around a season that has gone sour. But facing a similar situation, the Cardinals have infused their roster with young blood. Rookie Paul DeJong’s presence shaped the series. In three games, he went 9-for-12 with seven extra-base hits. He hit three homers in three games, including one off Matz.
The Mets’ rotation has a 4.88 ERA, 12th in the NL, and has allowed 79 homers, the third-highest total. The team’s slim chances of a turnaround hinge on improving those numbers.
“It always starts with pitching,” Matz said. “Pitching goes a long way, so overall, we’ve got to keep our heads down and do everything I can, we can, to give quality starts.”
Of course, it won’t matter unless the Mets get production out of the pieces they do have. And that includes Cespedes, who stumbled into the All-Star break in a massive slump. After going 0-for-3, he has six hits in his last 46 at-bats. His last extra-base hit came on June 23.
“We’ve got to get some energy back,” Collins said. “We’re not playing with much energy now, and I’m hoping that the rest will help out.”