The closest the Mets came to giving the Cubs a game Tuesday night was the few inches that separated Pete Alonso’s long fly ball from the leftfield foul pole in the first inning. That near-miss felt much bigger than those few inches, and Alonso sensed it, too.
When Alonso ultimately walked, he angrily flung his bat -- a strange reaction for someone just given a free base without taking a ball off some part of his body first. But the Mets squandered that rally, and another in the third inning, then did virtually nothing else until Alonso’s solo homer in the ninth capped a grim 4-1 loss, the second straight to the Cubs at Citi Field.
“I was just frustrated that it was foul,” Alonso said. “I was just frustrated that the outcome could have been different.”
It’s developing into a familiar refrain for these Mets, who nonetheless stuck with a positive mantra afterward. We’re all good. No need to panic. Check the track record.
But here are the facts. This supposed easy schedule, which figured to help secure the NL East title, is eating them alive instead. They dropped to 5-6 during this stretch against the well-below-.500 bunch of Nationals, Pirates, Marlins and Cubs.
“Finishing off a good season is really challenging,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Because you see the finish line, you’re trying to get there, and sometimes you get away from the things that got you there. And the other team doesn’t cooperate.”
The Mets haven’t been helping themselves, that’s for sure. In Monday’s 5-2 loss, they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base. That didn’t happen Tuesday because the Mets only scraped together four hits -- three singles and Alonso’s homer.
Blame the entire lineup for that futility. But the biggest culprit on a nightly basis tends to occupy the DH spot, which badly needs a renovation. Staying atop the NL East is going to be even more challenging if the DH keeps going AWOL on a daily basis, as this pre-deadline trend has continued to creep downward. Before Aug. 2, the Mets’ DHs ranked 25th in batting average (.213), 26th in OPS (.624) and 28th in home runs (seven).
The post-deadline stats are even more troubling. Before Tuesday night, the Mets’ DHs were 30th in batting average (.180), 26th in OPS (.587) and 19th in homers (four). Sinking lower in these categories figured to be impossible given the Mets’ pathetic numbers -- for comparison’s sake, the Cardinals’ DH spot (Albert Pujols & Co.) is hitting .302 with 11 homers and a 1.052 OPS over that same span -- but GM Billy Eppler somehow outdid himself with the Vogelbach/Ruf platoon combo.
Now it’s up to Showalter to MacGuyver a solution down the stretch, and the Mets can no longer afford to be patient. Showalter stuck with the slumping Vogelbach at DH Tuesday because the data suggested he was a favorable matchup against Cubs starter Adrian Sampson, but the Flushing honeymoon is just about over for Vogey, who went 0-for-3 Tuesday with a pair of meek groundouts and a soft pop to second that drew loud boos.
Vogelbach is now hitting .130 (7-for-54) without an extra-base hit or RBI since his last home run on Aug. 22 at Yankee Stadium. That just can’t continue for a player whose sole purpose is to generate offense. He was replaced in the ninth by Mark Vientos, who is expected to be the DH for Wednesday’s series finale against Cubs lefty Drew Smyly, and you can bet the scorching-hot Eduardo Escobar is going to start seeing some DH time as well.
Will that solve what’s ailing the Mets? Well, it couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure. Losing to lousy teams is one thing. But losing to a lousy team with Jacob deGrom on the mound? That’s another level. While it wasn’t vintage deGrom Tuesday night -- he allowed three earned runs and struck out 10 without a walk through six innings -- anything short of a shutout wasn’t going to get a W anyway.
“I think we’ll be fine,” deGrom said. “It’s a few rough games, but we’ll be OK. These guys do a good job of flushing it and coming back ready to play.”
It was a weird scene when Showalter sent out the Mets’ A-list relievers to follow deGrom despite a 3-0 deficit that quickly turned to 4-0 when Seth Lugo teed up a homer to David Bote with two outs in the seventh. The “Narco” trumpets don’t really have the same effect when Edwin Diaz trots in for mop-up duty.
If two losses to the Cubs really are just a speedbump for the Mets, then Wednesday would be a good time to prove it. Otherwise, we may start thinking differently about these wasted opportunities, and the Mets could end up feeling a deeper sense of regret than missing a foul pole by a few inches.