DENVER — The Mets’ increasingly improbable path to the playoffs looks a lot like the path they already had taken to relevant second-half baseball: They have to crush bad teams.
That is what they did in late July and early August, when they lost only one game in 2 1⁄2 weeks and revived their season. It is what they will have a chance to do in the next week-and-a-half as they play the out-of-contention Rockies, Reds and Marlins.
But now the Mets will need help — a lot of it. After their 9-4 loss to the Rockies on Monday, they are five games out of a National League wild card spot with 12 games to play.
Other games Monday didn’t offer that help. In Chicago, the Cubs beat the Reds. In Milwaukee, the Brewers beat the Padres. The Cubs hold the last NL playoff spot, with the Brewers one game back.
The Mets’ playoff chances have grown dire enough that it is time to start referencing their elimination number, the combined number of wins by the Cubs (or the team holding the second wild card) and losses by the Mets (77-73) that mathematically will eliminate them. That number is eight, which means that if the Cubs go 6-6, the Mets would have to go 11-1 to tie them.
Put another way: If the Mets are going to make the postseason, they need to catch fire — maybe win every game the rest of the way — and need two out of three of the Nationals, Cubs and Brewers to fall apart.
Elimination feels inevitable.
“We can’t worry about what it feels like,” Mickey Callaway said. “We have to take the same approach we’ve taken all season and focus on the next game. And we’ll continue to do that. That’s really all we can ever do.”
Steven Matz, who entered Monday with a 2.52 ERA in the second half, had his first stinker of a start since early August, allowing seven runs in four innings.
His night was smooth until a patented Matz meltdown in the fourth. With the Mets up 4-1, Garrett Hampson blooped a two-out RBI single to right. Matz then walked No. 8 hitter Drew Butera (.259 OBP) to load the bases and gave up a tying two-run single by pitcher Antonio Senzatela, who was 0-for-his-last-44 dating to exactly a year ago Monday.
“I had him 1-and-2 and I just left the ball out over the plate,” Matz said. “There’s so many different things I could’ve done in that situation when I’m ahead of him. I gave him a pitch to hit, I gave him a chance and I really wish I could have that one back.”
Trevor Story followed with a three-run homer to left.
In the first three innings, Matz threw 42 pitches. In the fourth, another 42 pitches.
That widened his already dramatic home/road splits. At Citi Field this year, Matz has a 1.94 ERA. Everywhere else, he has a 6.62 ERA. Callaway attributed that difference to luck. Matz didn’t know what to make of it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Honestly. Maybe three really bad starts probably bloats it a little bit. Including this one. Other than that, I’m not really sure.”
Senzatela allowed four runs in six innings, lowering his ERA to 6.83. Brandon Nimmo led off the game with a homer and Jeff McNeil added a two-run shot in the third.
Down by three, the Mets wasted a first-and-third, one-out chance in the sixth. Callaway used pinch hitters Luis Guillorme (in place of Tomas Nido) and Joe Panik (in place of reliever Walker Lockett) but did not deploy Wilson Ramos, the Mets’ best bat available on the bench. Callaway said it was because Senzatela struggles against lefties.
Guillorme (strikeout) and Panik (groundout) combined to end the inning.
Said Callaway, “We loved the matchup.”