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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

With Steven Matz and Seth Lugo on the way back, worst may be over for Mets

New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz looks on

New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz looks on from the dugout during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Take heart, Mets fans. The worst may be over.

The Adam Wilk / Rafael Montero / Tommy Milone / Tyler Pill portion of the season may have come to an end.

And not a moment too soon.

With two days off this week and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo poised to join the rotation next weekend in Atlanta, the Mets have a chance to get somewhat whole again. And that’s not even counting the who-knows-when return of Yoenis Cespedes.

The Mets have had eight games started by the above- mentioned quartet. They lost seven of them as that group went 0-5 with an 8.54 ERA. The quartet was hardly better than Kevin Plawecki on the mound, but at least he had the excuse of being a catcher when he pitched two innings at the end of a blowout in Washington.

Pill, who took the loss as the Mets fell to the Pirates, 11-1, at Citi Field, allowed five runs (three earned) in his second and most likely last major-league start for a while. He would have fared better if Michael Conforto had not air-mailed two throws, with both errors leading to unearned runs. Still, Pill was hit hard, giving up eight hits, and likely will throw his next pitch as a member of the Las Vegas 51s.

The game featured two seventh-inning stretches because of a botched replay review. But the Mets were out of it long before the seventh.

They fell to 24-31. They were 16-16 on May 9. Injuries have sapped their rotation depth, which seemed so formidable back in spring training.

The fill-in quartet and Robert Gsellman have combined to start a third of their games, which has sapped an already short bullpen. It’s really not a mystery why the Mets are closer to last place than first in the NL East.

“We haven’t pitched,” manager Terry Collins said. “We haven’t pitched like we can. I mean, this game’s about pitching. We’ve had some injuries, there’s no question about it. We came into this with a rotation that we figured was pretty dominant.”

Ah, the good old days, when Gsellman was the No. 6 starter entering spring training. He has a 5.53 ERA and is ticketed for the bullpen after one more start because of a doubleheader on Saturday in Atlanta.

Having said all that, if you think the Mets are done in the National League playoff picture, think again. The baseball season is just too long to write the Mets off, and they do have a history of turning early-season disappointment into a late-season run.

As the calendar — if not the weather — turns to summer, keep in mind that only six teams in the NL entered Sunday with at least a .500 record. One or more of the nine underwater teams is going to turn it around. Why can’t it be the Mets?

“It’s going to even out,” Neil Walker said. “It just hasn’t done so yet.”

The lineup is fine. It’ll be better once Cespedes returns from his leg injuries, whenever that will be. Tim Tebow might be in the lineup sooner. But the Mets went into the day tied for sixth in the NL in runs, so scoring hasn’t been the biggest problem.

“We’re not going to fold up the tent yet,” Collins said. “We’re going to press forward.”

Starting pitching, or lack thereof, and the resulting strain on the bullpen has been the problem. That’s where Matz and Lugo come in. If those two plus Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and the struggling Matt Harvey pitch at their best, and maybe Noah Syndergaard makes a triumphant late-season comeback, the Mets will make the playoffs. It’s that’s simple.

Of course, I’m the guy who picked the Mets to win the World Series in Newsday’s baseball preview. So I’ve gotta believe. You don’t have to.


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