Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto pumps his fist as J.D. Davis...

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto pumps his fist as J.D. Davis strikeout to end the game as the Phillies defeated the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday in Philadelphia. Credit: Getty Images/Rich Schultz

If this isn’t Panic City, the Mets can see it from here. And the weekend stopover at Citizens Bank Park is definitely on the way.

Because the only thing worse than losing a pair of games to the Phillies with first place on the line is how the Mets ultimately went down in Saturday’s 5-3 loss. Crickets for eight innings, then a late flourish of hope — including three consecutive homers — finally squashed by a pair of strikeouts.

Long on drama, short on runs. Consider that a working epitaph for the Mets’ 2021 season, with the reminder that they still have seven weeks to rewrite the ending.

But judging by their recent play on this road trip to nowhere, it’s getting easier to envision the worst-case scenarios. Tylor Megill, once a feel-good story to this season, retired nine straight and 12 of 13 before his fifth inning exploded in a fireball of homers by Brad Miller and Odubel Herrera (three-run shot). The Mets’ rotation, a first-half strength, has a 5.31 ERA since the All-Star break and the starters are 4-18 in the last 50 games.

As for Jacob deGrom? He left the team this weekend to tend to a personal matter, but because the ace remains in shutdown mode, the time away really has no effect on his tentatively projected September return. Francisco Lindor (strained oblique) couldn’t provide any clarity about rejoining the lineup when he spoke before Saturday’s game, although I’d take the over at this rate.

It’s getting more difficult to find any shreds of optimism among these Mets, who have old pal Zack Wheeler waiting for them in Sunday’s finale and MLB’s second-toughest schedule (by winning percentage) looming after this sobering Philly visit. In case you’re wondering, the Phillies, who have won seven straight for the first time since 2012, have the easiest.

Maybe you could point to Michael Conforto, Jonathan Villar and James McCann terrifying Joe Girardi with those three consecutive homers as a sign of life, but all those fireworks really accomplished was narrowing the deficit. The Mets even got Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis to take turns at the plate as the go-ahead run, only to have both strike out to end the game — on six straight fastballs from Ian Kennedy.


Who knew the trick to triggering their offense would be making sure the bases are empty? They dropped to .161 (9-for-56) with runners in scoring position over the last six games of this road trip while stranding 58 on base, so after 90 consecutive days in first place, the Mets also were in danger of dropping to third until Atlanta allowed the Nationals to score three runs in the ninth Saturday night.

"It’s easy to make excuses," McCann said. "But at the end of the day, you just have to own it. We haven’t been coming through in big spots as a team."

After the Mets’ eighth loss in 10 games, Luis Rojas shrugged off a question about his job security, but it’s fair to ask, considering some of Saturday’s head-scratching decisions. If the Mets keep sinking and owner Steve Cohen starts getting itchy for a scapegoat, Rojas is a convenient one.

"My focus will always be on the team," Rojas said. "We gotta win games. And if my focus isn’t there, I’m disrespecting everybody that’s wearing this uniform. That’s it. There’s nothing more than that."

There’s only so many ways for the Mets to say they’re struggling on offense. But eventually, you run out of words. And all those other words? They stopped having any meaning for the Mets a while back.

Which is why we can circle Saturday as the breaking point, when the Mets not only gave up spewing their misplaced optimism but drastically altered their lineup against closer-turned-starter Ranger Suarez — making only his second start this season — in a move that reeked of desperation.

We’re not going to hang these decisions on Rojas, because it’s been clear that the lineup is a collaborative effort between the manager and the front office.

But it was Rojas who had to explain the lineup before Saturday’s game, and the strategy to sit three of the team’s lefthanded-hitting starters — Conforto, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil — sounded questionable at best.

Conforto? Fine. He’s been playing himself into a platoon arrangement, but Smith’s reverse splits made him one of the team’s best hitters against lefties (.327 batting average) and McNeil supposedly took Thursday off specifically to play all three of these games.

"It’s this particular lefty," Rojas said, referring to Suarez as if he were Randy Johnson.

If the Mets were capable of scoring more than two runs a game and hadn’t just lost their grip on first place the previous night, Rojas wouldn’t be freaking out in the middle of this pivotal series. And he was rewarded by that lineup producing zero hits against Suarez in 2 2⁄3 innings and failing to capitalize on three walks.

"There has to be a sense of urgency," McCann said. "But there’s a difference between a sense of urgency and panic . . . We can’t get caught up in the negativity."

When things go this bad this fast, sometimes you don’t have a choice.

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