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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes sore and sorely needed by Mets

Neil Walker #20 and Yoenis Cespedes #52 of

Neil Walker #20 and Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets celebrate after scoring in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on Friday, May 27, 2016 in the Queens Borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

As this frustrating season winds down, the Mets have two types of players on their roster. Those already dealing with some kind of injury and those simply waiting to get hurt.

After Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Phillies, however, we should probably add a third category. Players who supposedly are feeling better but really aren’t and will continue to make the Mets’ last-ditch effort for the second wild-card spot a tantalizing yet fruitless pursuit.

Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes are the MVPs of that last group, as both were left off Sunday’s lineup card with the Mets going for a sweep of the lowly Phillies. Talk about a buzzkill.

We had been led to believe that Walker’s back ailment was mostly fixed by last week’s paternity leave until Terry Collins informed us that no, he couldn’t get enough treatment Sunday morning to be ready for the series finale. And Cespedes? Turns out his right quad muscle, the reason he wound up on the DL earlier this month, isn’t so peachy after all and Collins didn’t want to push his luck by playing him in the Citi Field matinee.

In delivering this news, Collins was mostly numb. He already was starting Robert Gsellman that afternoon against the Phillies, followed by Rafael Montero and Seth Lugo for this week’s crucial wild-card showdown with the Marlins. Collins, never shy about sharing his emotions, now seems to be in shock, like he just stumbled away from some roadside calamity. His senses are dulled to it as the Mets lose more bodies than games, and both took a drop Sunday when Asrubal Cabrera also was forced to leave in the first inning with a sore left knee.

The manager’s look of blank acceptance has saturated the clubhouse, too. Looking up after tying his Jordans, Walker summarily described why it’s going to be so difficult for the Mets to leapfrog the other mediocre combatants in this wild-card race.

“It’s day-by-day right now,” Walker said. “Guys come in here and you see who’s good to go and who’s not.”

That’s a tough way to do business for a team with playoff aspirations, and especially one trying to make up 2 1⁄2-game deficit, while trailing three other clubs. The Mets did an admirable job forcing themselves back into the pack with a strong finish to last week’s killer 10-game road trip, and we bought in — partly based on momentum, but also by the return of players like Walker and Cespedes.

If the Mets can’t keep them in the lineup on a daily basis, as was the case this weekend, their slim playoff hopes become paper-thin. Walker had been on fire at the right time, batting .440 (40-for-91) with seven home runs and 15 RBIs over his previous 23 games, but there’s no telling how this recurring back issue will limit him going forward. It’s just a matter of Walker waking up, doing his regular maintenance work and then seeing if he’s able to play.

“It’s something I’ve dealt with,” Walker said, “so when I feel confident to go nine innings, then I’m in there — especially at this point of the season.”

The enigmatic Cespedes appears to be in a similar situation with his quad problem. When asked in St. Louis why he didn’t move around so well during that series, Cespedes blamed his labored gait on a previous heel condition, dating back to his days in Cuba. That sounded fishy at the time — Cespedes was spotted trying to stretch his right leg in the outfield — and Collins admitted Sunday it indeed was the quad keeping him on the bench. After the Phillies’ loss, Cespedes declined an interview request, but did say he intends to play Monday against the Marlins.

As Walker mentioned, however, the Mets never know for sure who’s functional until a few hours before the first pitch. And once the game starts? Collins keeps his fingers crossed. Cabrera was only the second Met to step to the plate Sunday before a collision at first base — on his beautiful bunt single — caused him to be removed with the knee injury.

“That took a little air out of the balloon,” Collins said.

And maybe sucked some life from the Mets’ playoff hopes as well.


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