At some point, it becomes too late to say it is early. Slow starts from aging players are revealed to be something more menacing, more permanent. And surprise at an underperforming roster morphs into legitimate concern.
“It could happen pretty soon,” Mets manager Terry Collins said after Wednesday night’s 8-2 defeat to the Braves.
The Mets have dropped five straight and nine of their last 10, looking like a team in need of a shake-up. Righty Robert Gsellman got blasted for six runs (five earned), the lineup produced five hits, and the defense committed three errors.
The Mets tumbled to 8-12. It’s the first time since the final day of the 2014 season — a 79-83 exercise in mediocrity — that the Mets have slipped four games under .500.
“We know we’re going to get back on track here soon,” Neil Walker said. “There’s still no panic in here.”
Yet, through the first 20 games of a season loaded with expectations, the Mets have invited reason for scrutiny. Walker, who knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly, is batting .197. Curtis Granderson is hitting .141. Jose Reyes is hitting .114 after going 1-for-3 in his first start in the eighth spot since his rookie year in 2003.
In their last 10 games, the offense has averaged only 2.8 runs, again exposing their troubles when home runs don’t come.
“This certainly is something we could not foresee, nor would you ever,” Collins said. “You always know you’re going to have a bad streak, but I thought we were way too good of an offensive club to struggle this bad.”
Both the Giants and Dodgers have summoned top prospects this week to stem the tide after rough starts. But for now, the Mets have sent no indications of a looming shake-up to jolt some life into a sagging roster.
Top prospect Amed Rosario began the day hitting .397/.444/.466 with Triple-A Las Vegas. He could play shortstop, and moving Asdrubal Cabrera from short to third base would theoretically bump the slumping Reyes out of the lineup.
But sources indicated before Wednesday night’s loss that a call-up for the 21-year-old Rosario likely isn’t on the horizon just yet. Another source said that only an injury would likely fast-track the prospect to the big leagues.
So, for the Mets to break out of their funk, it will have to be with the same crew that has become habitually dysfunctional.
Said Walker: “We’re just kind of out of sync right now as a group.
Whether it was throwing a baseball across the diamond or accurately announcing which pitcher was scheduled to start, even simple tasks have been a challenge for the Mets.
After Tuesday’s rainout, the Mets said Noah Syndergaard would start Wednesday night, which they later acknowledged was a mistake. Perhaps, they should have stuck with the miscue.
Gsellman (0-2) got shelled for five runs in the first and lasted only four-plus innings. He allowed the first seven batters he faced to reach base. He finished the game with diminished velocity on his fastball, which he chalked up to drizzly conditions.
“Hopefully, there’s nothing wrong physically,” Collins said. “But we’ve seen better stuff.”
Tyler Flowers delivered the biggest blow against Gsellman, clearing the bases with a three-run double. With that, the crowd let out a wave of boos, demoralized by 5-0 deficit against a reputed Mets killer who lived up to his reputation. Indeed, Braves righty Julio Teheran surrendered two runs in 6 1⁄3 innings and has a 0.91 ERA in his last seven starts against the Mets.
“It’s always surprising when you’re not playing well, when you’re not winning ballgames with a group this talented,” Walker said. “But at the same time, with every team I’ve ever been on, we’ve gone through stretches like this.”