Look on the bright side. If the Mets do end up winning the NL East title, the clincher will have to be at Citi Field.
Didn’t think so.
Because what happened Friday night against Atlanta at Truist Park exposed a few troubling developments for the Mets at a point when they hoped to be exorcising some demons.
Turns out the defending world champs — and forever Mets nemesis — aren’t going to be rolling over this weekend at the mere sight of Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt.
Atlanta has the lopsided history on its side, and those with long memories had to be experiencing flashbacks of bygone frustrations Friday during the Mets’ 5-2 loss, which again created a tie atop the division.
Leading that list was deGrom, who is looking human at the absolute worst time. He teed up monstrous homers by Austin Riley (422 feet), Matt Olson (430) and Dansby Swanson (441) and also is dealing with a blister that seems to have contributed to his recent problems. The blister not only caused his early exit after six innings Friday but could jeopardize his next start as well (whenever that is).
DeGrom apparently had been bothered by the blister during his most recent start (four innings, five earned runs, four walks in Oakland), and it swelled up again Friday before popping to expose the skin.
“The skin underneath my nail kind of peeled off, so it started getting pretty aggravated,” deGrom said. “Then we were debating whether or not to keep going with it. We decided that was enough. We don’t want it to become a bigger issue than what it is.”
Any malfunction by deGrom, however, is never a minor thing. And seeing him get raked by Atlanta had to be unsettling for the Mets, especially after Buck Showalter & Co. set up this weekend’s rotation to use him as the tip of the spear.
Three solo homers, no matter the distance, don’t necessarily spell doom. But that’s not the deGrom the Mets need, even if he did rack up 11 strikeouts without a walk in six innings. He had to do better than a quality start, and in his past four, he has a 6.00 ERA. That’s a shocking number, blister or not.
“It was brought to my attention about the fifth inning,” Showalter said. “He pitched the sixth and we talked a little bit up in the runway. You saw his velocity go down in the sixth inning — that concerned me. Jake will pitch to whenever, but where we are in the season, we don’t want that developing into something that makes him miss a long time.”
Well, then. That’s quite a reversal from the good vibes the Mets carried with them to Atlanta for this weekend, when they had both a one-game lead and the all-important division tiebreaker.
There’s still reason for optimism — the Mets will be able to control their own destiny if they win the next two — but Friday’s events had to be corrosive to their confidence.
Atlanta got only five innings from Max Fried, who retired 10 straight and was last seen hunched over a trash can in the dugout, right before he was declared out because of “feeling ill.”
Fried’s upset stomach should have been a lucky break for the Mets, but as we’ve learned over the years, they don’t get many of those. Or at least don’t capitalize on them.
The Mets couldn’t dent Atlanta’s bullpen, aside from Tomas Nido’s solo homer in the eighth inning, and Showalter wasn’t as fortunate with another episode of the Tylor Megill Experiment in the seventh.
The team’s insistence on pushing Megill into high-leverage situations — rather than risk overusing Seth Lugo, as Showalter explained afterward — hurt them again Friday as he put the game out of reach by allowing three hits and two runs.
General manager Billy Eppler also continued the team’s audition for a productive DH with the surprise call-up of top prospect Francisco Alvarez, but that didn’t go so well either. Alvarez, batting seventh, went 0-for-4 and struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded in the ninth.
Atlanta couldn’t have seen Alvarez coming unless the organization was scouting I-95 this week. You see, Alvarez was driving from Syracuse to Miami after the Triple-A season wrapped up when he got a call from Eppler to divert his trip to Truist Park.
“I don’t feel like we’re experimenting,” Showalter said. “We got some guys with some track record. Our best option, without Starling [Marte] here, we have to force some things we might not normally have to.”
It was a bold move, plucking Alvarez from the interstate to face Fried in his major-league debut. But this is a time that calls for bold actions, and why not Alvarez?
As the Mets have seen all too often in this rivalry, it didn’t work. And now they have Citi Field to look forward to. Maybe.