Mathematically, the Mets have a little less than a third of the season left to fix this mess, but in reality, they have much less time than that.
Thanks to this 60-game sprint, the Mets have only 17 more tries to correct course after their 11-2 drubbing against the fourth-place Orioles at Citi Field on Tuesday — a game disappointing both because of the caliber of play and the caliber of opponent. They’ll try to do it with an overmatched rotation, most recently typified by Michael Wacha’s four-inning outing Tuesday, and rickety bullpen, this time represented by Robert Gsellman, who was shelled in a four-run fourth.
In the words of one of the Mets old managers, it’s getting late early.
“We do not feel time is running out but we need to get that win” tomorrow, manager Luis Rojas said of Wednesday’s game. “We’ve got to start tomorrow. We’ve got to get hot. We’ve got to get on a streak like this team can but we’ve got to start by winning this one game tomorrow bouncing back. It was a tough loss yesterday and we came in today prepared to win this one and it was another tough loss…Tomorrow is the biggest game.”
And though the Mets are in danger of running out of tomorrows, Tuesday seemed like an especially brutal addition to their recent misadventures. Coming off a tight loss against the Phillies and hoping to bounce back, they were instead treated to a nearly insurmountable deficit by the fifth inning.
Wacha pitched four innings, allowing five runs, four earned, on seven hits, with two, two-run homers. Then Gsellman, who also injured his left oblique later in the game, came in and allowed four more runs in the fifth, putting the Mets down 9-1.
Gsellman allowed two more runs in the eighth before leaving with the oblique injury.
The Mets offense — which has been more reliable this season — managed to do little of note against Orioles lefty John Means, who came into the game with an 8.10 ERA. The lone bright spots were Jake Marisnick, who doubled and homered, and Jeff McNeil, who hit his third homer in as many days.
The Mets remain fourth in the National League, five games under .500 and, though behind a number of teams, are still in a Wild Card race because of the expanded playoff format this year.
Rojas acknowledged that their biggest problem has been their rotation. On Tuesday, it meant Wacha, whose out pitch, his changeup, stayed high in the zone — a tantalizing bit catnip for the Orioles hitters.
“I’ve got to be better, I’ve got to be better,” Wacha said, adding that he wasn’t sure if his issue was mental or mechanical, but that he intended to figure it out before his next start. Wacha also went down with shoulder inflammation in early August, making it possible that he still has some holdover from that recovery.
Both of the homers he allowed, to DJ Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle, were on changeups high in the zone. It was a continuation of Wacha’s downward trajectory, that started in his second start this season and continued to go strong Tuesday. If his 7.50 ERA wasn’t unseemly enough, it actually balloons to 10.00 when you erase his first strong start against the Red Sox. His BABIP is a very high .429, but other statistics indicate this is a product of the type of contact that hitters are getting against him, rather than just bad luck. According to Baseball Savant, his hard-hit rate is at 40 percent, the highest of his career. Wacha has also lasted four innings or fewer in four of his six starts this year.
“It’s been different things in all the different outings,” Rojas said in his assessment of Wacha. “Tonight it was his bread and butter pitch, the changeup up in the zone…he wasn’t really placing it down where he could get some chases… We’ve had some adversity with our starting rotation and that’s no secret and we made all the effort to adjust, whatever we can do to get back on track.”
Yes, but they also have to do it fast enough for it to matter.