WASHINGTON — Ask any major-league team about its upcoming goals, and the answer is consistently some variation of: Win this series. It doesn’t matter whether it’s home or away, intra-division or interleague, a sexy headline-grabbing matchup with playoff implications or a midweek date with the runt of the league. Teams want to win series, because over the course of a season, winning series consistently means being one of the best.
The Mets spent a week on the road and, with an 8-4 win over the Nationals on Wednesday, won both series. They took two out of three from the Phillies over the weekend, took two out of three from the Nationals this week and after the game said: mission accomplished. Now it is time to go home and win some more series.
“This was a really awesome road trip for us,” Pete Alonso said. “Taking two series on the road against really, really tough in-division teams, that says a lot about the character of this club.”
Added Zack Wheeler: “Any time you can win a series, it’s big.”
And manager Mickey Callaway: “We took care of business. We gained ground on two teams that were in front of us.”
But it is not clear that merely winning series is good enough for the Mets (71-68) at this point. They are 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs for the last National League wild card spot with 23 games to play, and their homestand starting Friday is another difficult one: Phillies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers.
As satisfied as the Mets were about bouncing back Wednesday after blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday, the ugly loss remained a major missed opportunity — just like Sunday when the bullpen helped the Phillies to a late rally and win. A 4-2 road trip was nearly a 6-0 road trip.
The margin for error is thinner than ever for the Mets, who have won 12 of 16 series in the second half.
“For us to get where we want to go, everybody has to perform from now on,” Callaway said. “It’s just what you have to do. It seems like we have the talent to do that. We just have to go do it.”
This time, the Mets successfully held onto a large lead. Jeurys Familia helped Washington make it close with three runs in two-thirds of an inning, but the rest of the bullpen locked it down: Luis Avilan for an out, Seth Lugo for two innings and Justin Wilson for one inning.
Callaway took the unusual step Wednesday morning of meeting with his team about the Tuesday disaster. He said they got over it quickly.
“I sensed it all morning, right when I saw a bunch of them,” Callaway said. “They knew they had to go win a game today. That’s what’s special about this group.”
The Mets battered Nats righthander Anibal Sanchez, who was efficient but ineffective. He gave up seven runs in five-plus innings on 74 pitches, allowing homers to Juan Lagares (first since May 5), Robinson Cano and Alonso.
Alonso’s homer was his 45th of the season, most in the majors. A rookie has never led the majors in home runs in a season.
Wheeler struggled early, allowing a run and throwing 58 pitches in the opening two innings, but grinded through five innings of one-run ball. He held the Nationals to 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight men on base.
“Things weren’t going great for him, but he gutted through it,” Callaway said. “That defines a pitcher, days like this. How are you going to get through the game? He did a great job.”
Plenty of other good stuff happened for the Mets, too. Cano went 3-for-3 — his fifth consecutive multi-hit game — in his first game back from the injured list. Brandon Nimmo, coming off the bench, had two walks and a diving catch in leftfield. And Jeff McNeil had another two-hit game as he emerges from his brief slump.
Altogether, it helped the Mets win another series. But what are the chances they make the playoffs?
“There is a possibility,” Callaway said — accurately — Wednesday morning. “Look at the game [Tuesday] night. There's much more of a possibility for us to get to the playoffs than for them to win that game. So anything is possible.”