CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo softened up the Mets with what looked like more than 900 feet of home runs in the Cubs’ 6-2 victory Wednesday at Wrigley Field. But it was Travis d’Arnaud who absorbed the most painful blow, to the most vulnerable of places, when a foul ball kicked up unexpectedly in the first inning.
We mention this uncomfortable episode for two reasons. One, it was the only thing close to an enjoyable moment for the Mets, with a few of them giggling like grade schoolers, even d’Arnaud. And two, that also marked the game’s tipping point, as Bartolo Colon immediately surrendered a pair of runs and the game went downhill from there.
What we’re concerned about, however, is where the Mets go next, and not just Miami for the weekend. Dropping two to the Cubs is a disappointment, and temporarily falling behind the Marlins into third place in the NL East is unsettling.
But here in late July, the Mets still have a handful of in-house questions to answer, as they look ahead to likely trading for bullpen help by the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. A few of those were contributing factors in Wednesday’s loss because Terry Collins really had no choice but to sit the ailing Yoenis Cespedes, whose right quad issue is nowhere near as improved as the Mets were banking on coming out of the All-Star break.
Cespedes already was transferred from centerfield to left for the first two games of the Cubs series, but didn’t move so great out there either. Now the Mets must hope the two days off — he was available to pinch hit Wednesday — significantly help the healing process.
“We’ve got to get him as healthy as we can,” Collins said.
The Mets also are getting antsy with Jose Reyes, who is showing glimpses of being the leadoff hitter they anticipated. Reyes was never going to be a one-man, cure-all for the Mets’ difficulty with manufacturing runs, but hitting .213 (10-for-47) with a .269 on-base percentage is something less than the Mets imagined.
Reyes played a huge part in Tuesday’s 2-1 comeback win, scoring the tying run after a leadoff triple. And seven of his 10 hits have been for extra bases. The glaring problem is the 10 strikeouts, because Reyes can’t use his peppy legs very much if he’s not putting the ball in play.
“I’m still a work in progress,” said Reyes, who has played only 12 games. “It’s going to click one day very soon. And when it does, I hope it stays for a little while.”
So do the Mets. They keep starting Reyes atop the order — and sitting Wilmer Flores — to try to speed up his transition from disciplinary limbo to everyday third baseman, or even shortstop, as he was Wednesday filling in for the resting Asdrubal Cabrera. If Reyes sputters, however, Flores eventually could threaten his playing time.
The Mets don’t want it to come to that. Flores went deep again Wednesday and is now batting .412 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 11 games since July 3 — and started only two of the last six overall. When pushed on Flores postgame, Collins quickly reminded everyone that he went 0-for-3 against the righthanded Kyle Hendricks before taking the lefty Carl Edwards Jr. into the Waveland Ave. bleachers.
“He’s doing damage,” Collins said. “But you’ve got to pick your spots.”
One of those spots will come again Friday, when the Marlins use Adam Conley for the series opener. Also expected back are Cabrera and Neil Walker, with the latter’s job potentially in danger of being challenged by Flores as well. Walker has a .164/.250/.260 slash line over his last 20 games with two homers and 10 RBIs, so his fast start now feels like a distant memory.
The Mets left Chicago without any alarming developments regarding either Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard, so that’s a plus. But Colon’s stumble Wednesday jumped his ERA to 7.36 over his last three starts, suggesting that perhaps the 43-year-old was beginning to feel his age. The Mets can’t afford to worry about him, too.
“We don’t have the options right now,” Collins said. “If he was 53, he’d be out there.”