As soon as Mets fans let their guards down and enjoyed Timmy Trumpet a little too much, we all knew what was coming next. The team’s lead in the NL East has been dwindling for going on three weeks, and now after losing three straight — two to the Nats and one to the Pirates — New York and Atlanta are tied. To put this into context, the Mets have been in first place in the NL East since April 12.
Over their past 20 games, the Mets are 10-10, the offense has been good or awful, and has picked really bad days to be awful. Five of the losses have come by one or two runs, with a couple of pitching gems wasted due to lack of run support. The offense has averaged nearly four runs per game during this stretch (3.8), but has scored four runs exactly zero times in the window. Their ERA over the past 20? 3.88. That suggests their .500 record is warranted.
The Mets fanbase is conditioned to expect the Mets to do Mets things, and so when Max Scherzer left his start against Washington earlier this week after five innings with fatigue on his left side, there was a collective “fuck my life” emanating out of Queens. Scherzer has since been placed on the 15-day IL, which will only incite further panic.
Starting pitcher Chris Bassitt has been a solid No. 3, and Jacob deGrom looks more like a No. 1 than a No. 2 since finally returning to the mound at the beginning of August. Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco have been asked to step up for deGrom all season, and each has had their fair share of quality starts, but playoff baseball requires more than an occasional quality start.
Random spats of bad luck are commonplace in baseball, and New York just happens to pick the most inopportune times to have them. The bats will come back around, and hopefully so will Scherzer. Things are looking up Wednesday, as they’ve managed five runs so far in the first of a day-night double dip in Pittsburgh.
The tie atop the NL East is less about the Mets faltering though. Atlanta has lost two series since the start of August, and its only split was a two-game series against the Phillies. They have four sweeps in their past 20 games en route to a 15-5 record. And while the Mets’ staff ERA and run output are essentially a push in that sample size, the Braves’ offensive production (5.95 runs) is doubling up its team ERA (2.65).
Atlanta caught fire in the second half a year ago, and has shown more of the same in 2022, only it didn’t have to dig out of a hole this time around. Every prospect the Braves call up seemingly hits the ground — and everything else — running.
Vaughn Grissom is the latest such player, as the second baseman is hitting .337 with four home runs and 14 RBI since being brought up on Aug. 10. To add some context, and twist the knife a bit, Pete Alonso is hitting .202 with three dingers and 11 RBI since that date (per StatMuse).
Oh, and lest we forget Michael Harris II, who’s won multiple Rookie of the Month awards (June and August) this season, and is already trying to insert himself into elite territory.
With the new playoff format — six teams from each league with the two best division winners getting byes — the race to win the NL East is likely to receive a pass to the second round. No one is catching the Dodgers for the best record in the NL (or baseball for that matter), but even if the Cardinals remain unconscious, they’ll need to close a five-game gap in the span of a month to get the other bye.
Not only will the No. 2 team in the NL East not receive a free pass, but it also will have to play the better of the other two wild-card teams. I don’t know how concerned New York should be about Philadelphia — they’re 14-5 against the Phillies in 2022 — but the franchise behind door No. 2 is whatever version of San Diego or Milwaukee nabs the final playoff berth. The first round also is a five-game format, and the way it’s scheduled won’t allow deGrom and Scherzer both to pitch twice (at least not without each throwing on short rest).
Waiting for the other cleat to drop is a tradition Mets faithful know better than anyone else. We’ll see how messy it is once there’s more info about Scherzer, but I hesitate to even ask, “How bad can it really get?” Do you remember 2007 and 2008? Mets fans sure as fuck do.