WASHINGTON — All you need to know about the Mets’ 8-4 loss to the Nationals on Monday night involves one highly unusual statistic.
Kyle Schwarber, Washington’s leadoff hitter, hit two more home runs. Since June 12, he has walloped 15 homers, the most ever in a month by a Nationals player.
The Mets, with the second-lowest-scoring offense in the majors, hit two late home runs. Since June 12, they have gone deep 16 times and lead Schwarber by one.
"We’re trying everything," manager Luis Rojas said of pitching to Schwarber. "We’re pitching him in, away, down, up, we’ve bounced balls. We’ve tried everything. This guy is swinging a hot bat."
The Mets cannot relate. They are scoring 3.59 runs per game, barely better than the Pirates (3.57), a rebuilding team that never anticipated being competitive this year.
The Mets (40-34), conversely, are competitive. After losing nine of their past 14 games, they are three games ahead of the second-place Nationals (38-38) in the NL East.
But this one-off makeup game, a result of the postponement of their season-opening series because of the Nationals’ COVID-19 outbreak, underscored two of the Mets’ primary issues: They don’t score much and they have questions at the back of their rotation.
"Everybody in this lineup has hit before. They’re all proven hitters, all big-league hitters," Jeff McNeil said. "It’s going to happen for us. It’s taking longer than we all want, but there’s a sense of urgency that we gotta start putting some runs on the board."
Down 5-0 going into the late innings, the Mets made it interesting with a run in the seventh (McNeil’s RBI single) and consecutive homers from Pete Alonso (a two-run shot) and Billy McKinney in the eighth. Then Washington went to closer Brad Hand, who recorded a five-out save. Ryan Zimmerman opened it back up with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.
Because their planned pitcher, Erick Fedde, went on the injured list with an oblique strain Sunday, the Nationals turned to spot starter Paolo Espino, a 34-year-old swingman getting his first extended run in the majors.
He shut out the Mets for five innings, scattering five hits, striking out three and walking none.
"The curveball specifically, more so than the slider, is a pitch that I think has gotten a little bit in our heads because pitchers have been successful [with it]," Rojas said. "When we track the slower breaking ball, which is the curveball, that’s when they get fastballs by us. That’s what Espino did tonight."
It was a minor miracle that righthander Jerad Eickhoff, perhaps auditioning for a longer stay with the Mets as they go back to five starters instead of their recent six, survived six innings. He gave up five runs. Four of Washington’s eight hits against him were solo home runs.
Schwarber and Trea Turner homered on back-to-back pitches in the first inning. Juan Soto nearly made it three homers on three pitches, but his rocket went off the wall in right-center.
Gerardo Parra went deep in the third and Schwarber did so again in the fifth.
Altogether, Eickhoff allowed 10 batted balls hit at 100 mph or faster. Three turned into outs.
"I could’ve kept it a little closer with a pitch here and a pitch there," said Eickhoff, who noted that he might’ve been tipping his pitches. "That’s what I’m most frustrated about."
The Schwarber Show reached historic levels. He became the third player in MLB history to hit 15 homers in a span of 17 games, joining Barry Bonds (2001) and Sammy Sosa (1998). Seven of those came in a stretch of 11 plate appearances against the Mets.
"He’s getting to balls right now that he hasn’t in the past," Eickhoff said.
Fortunately for the Mets, they don’t have to pitch to Schwarber again until Aug. 10, when the Nationals visit Citi Field.