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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets stumble, but fans shouldn’t slip into old mindset

Mets relief pitcher Robert Gsellman kicks the mound

Mets relief pitcher Robert Gsellman kicks the mound after Nationals shortstop Trea Turner scores during the eighth inning at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Deep breaths. Think happy thoughts. Puppies. Rainbows.

For those hyperventilating in Mets Nation, now home to the first losing streak of the 2018 season, freak out if you must. There is comfort in the familiar, and a perpetual state of anxiety is the default position for residents of Panic City.

So Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Nationals wasn’t the bounce-back performance we were looking for from the Mets, whose season was on the brink — and probably still is — in some circles. What it means going forward, however, isn’t going to be deciphered right away.

Seeking perspective? Look no further than the Mets’ own clubhouse, where the players knew full well what’s been going on outside their doors.

“No need to panic,” said Todd Frazier, actually playing it straight for reporters. “Nobody in here is down. Everybody in here realizes what we’re capable of and I do as well.”

This is a mostly tongue-in-cheek conversation. To the rational thinkers, it’s silly to be worried in April, whether the team is 12-4 or 4-12. The Mets never had a firm grip on Tuesday’s game like they did the previous night, but it felt winnable at times.

Zack Wheeler survived plenty of traffic on the basepaths to allow only three runs over six innings, and on some days, that might be enough. But this wasn’t one of those, and not against the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez, who didn’t make it through the sixth yet still extended his Citi Field dominance to 11-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 15 starts there.

The Mets (12-4) had their chances, but finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 — including a total of six over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. In letting that 6-1 lead slip away Monday night, they were outscored 10-0 before Asdrubal Cabrera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning Tuesday cut the Nats’ lead to 3-1. Yoenis Cespedes’ RBI groundout trimmed it to 3-2, but the Mets never got any closer.

Wasted opportunities happen. That’s part of any game. There remain some bigger issues, however, that again proved poisonous to the Mets in Tuesday’s defeat. One concern that refuses to go away is the team’s pathetic run defense, which has been a lethal combination of the Mets’ catching woes and failure of the pitching staff to keep opponents on a tight leash.

The Mets allowed three more stolen bases Tuesday, and two of those runners scored as a result — one in the fourth inning, the other in the seventh. Overall, they have allowed 21 thefts on 22 tries this season, and it’s certainly not going to help that the Mets are down to a pair of minor-league fill-ins at the position.

Mickey Callaway acknowledged their issues in that area, saying that “it’s always a point of emphasis.” He credited the Nationals’ athleticism and team speed rather than his own club’s deficiencies, but the numbers suggest every team feels it can run against the Mets with impunity. That needs to get solved, and fairly quickly.

Another glaring problem is the early struggles of Jose Reyes, who slipped to 0-for-17 (4 Ks) on the season after a brutal pinch-hit appearance in the sixth inning. With the Mets trailing at 3-2 and runners at the corners with one out, Callaway sent up Reyes to face the lefthanded reliever Sammy Solis. Despite getting ahead in the count 2-and-1, Reyes missed badly on a changeup and then struck out on an awkward half-swing foul tip at a fastball.

That was a game-changing opportunity that Callaway bestowed on Reyes rather than Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto for the sake of using the only righthanded hitter on his bench. Conforto was the only one of the three to have a hit off Solis, but Callaway insisted that Reyes was the best option for that particular spot. But talking to him afterward, Reyes doesn’t sound like a very confident player at the moment.

“I’m kind of lost right now,” Reyes said. “Last year, I went through a similar situation. I’ve got to continue to grind and see what happens.”

Add that to the Mets’ punch list of things to fix in the short-term. Save the real anxiety for a later date.

New York Sports