Mets manager Buck Showalter looks on during the fifth inning against...

Mets manager Buck Showalter looks on during the fifth inning against the Astros at Citi Field on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

If the Mets were going to lose four straight to the Astros, better for it to be in late June than late October.

But Buck Showalter & Co. have more pressing issues at the moment than worrying about a rematch with Houston on the World Series stage. And there’s no hurry to see Justin Verlander again, not after the ageless two-time Cy Young winner silenced the Mets in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Citi Field.

The sobering truth? The Mets aren’t on the level of the defending AL champs yet, and now in the midst of their first three-game losing streak this season, it’s now officially time to start sweating the rest of the NL East. June is historically a rough month for the Mets, and they barely escaped this one with a winning record (13-12).

The toll on their divisional lead, however, was devastating. The Mets had a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, and only 28 days later, it’s down to three games over Atlanta, which defeated the Phillies, 4-1, Wednesday night.

“I haven’t been paying attention to that, but I’m sure it’s tighter,” Francisco Lindor said of the NL East race. “It’s kind of what I expected. Atlanta is the defending champion.”

Consider the Astros a reality check. For the first three months of this season, as the Mets were neck-and-neck with the Yankees for baseball’s best record, there was a tendency to already pencil them in for a lengthy playoff push. It looked too easy.

We still feel confident putting the Mets in the October tournament -- if Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom return in a fairly prompt fashion, a strong title run as well. But with the division far from decided, and Houston showing what a championship-caliber team looks like by going 6-2 against both New York clubs this past week, the evidence suggests the need to recalibrate those early expectations.


The Astros outscored the Mets, 24-6, in this home-and-home four-game series as the Mets batted .200 with a pair of two home runs. For the sake of comparison, the Yankees split their own four-game series with Houston in the Bronx and were outscored, 15-14. They hit .123 with six homers. Also of note, the Yankees twice had to rally late for a pair of walk-off wins, one in the 10th inning, and the Astros pitched a combined no-hitter in Saturday’s victory en route to holding them hitless for 16 1/3 innings over two days.

The Subway Series isn’t for another month, so short of that head-to-head matchup, we’ll have to settle for the Astros providing the measuring stick for each of the New York teams. And when it comes to the Mets -- who have now scored a total of three runs in their past three games -- Houston was too helpful in further exposing some flaws.

On Tuesday, the Mets needed a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning to avoid being shutout and Carlos Carrasco, who had been a de facto ace, didn’t act like one in blaming a questionable check-swing call (in the first inning!) for him blowing up in the non-competitive 9-1 loss. Wednesday was a much different story, as Taijaun Walker went toe-to-toe with Verlander for 7 1/3 scoreless innings of his own.

But it ended with the same result, as Drew Smith teed up the winning homer with two outs in the ninth inning to Astros catcher Jason Castro, who entered Wednesday batting .095 and had yet to go deep this season. Showalter chose to go with Edwin Diaz for the top of the order in the eighth and he whiffed both Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman. But rather than stick with his nearly unhittable closer for another inning, Showalter said he didn’t want to push him past 14 pitches and opted for Smith, a move that turned disastrous.

“If I had to do it again, I’d probably throw the same pitch,” Smith said of the 84-mph slider. “Maybe just make it a little better.”

Showalter later explained that Smith was well-rested and his best option for that particular spot. But Smith’s failure, coming on the heels of Chasen Shreve’s implosion the previous night, is just another red flag for a bullpen that’s been an area of concern for a while. How ironic that the one year Diaz has evolved into his most dominant self, the rest of the bullpen is potentially crumbling around him. But that’s what the trade deadline is for and the Mets have more than a month to find help.

In the meantime, Scherzer should be rejoining the rotation next week if Wednesday’s rehab start with the Rumble Ponies goes well. Maybe deGrom shortly after the All-Star break. Then we’ll reassess. As Smith mentioned postgame, the 2015 Mets went 0-7 against the Cubs during the regular season before sweeping them in the NLCS that year.

Don’t bet on history repeating itself quite like that if the Mets wind up seeing the Astros again in the World Series. But with Scherzer, deGrom and some deadline upgrades, you’d have to like their odds of getting there -- with more of a fighting chance next time.  

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