As the Mets were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend at Citi Field, New York erased all the good that was earned when they swept the Washington Nationals last week — falling to 2.5 games out in the NL East to put their season on the brink once again.
While Sunday night’s loss was an all-around disaster, the Mets were not outclassed by the Dodgers on Friday and Saturday — losing both games in extra innings after squandering chances to win, making the sweep that much harder to swallow.
On Friday, it was an exhausted Jeurys Familia serving up a game-deciding two-run homer in the 10th. On Saturday, it was — as has so often been the case this season — the Mets’ offense going comatose in another 10-inning loss. On Sunday, it was Carlos Carrasco getting ambushed for six runs in two innings to erase any hope New York had of salvaging a game.
Over the last few weeks as the Mets’ once-promising season has spiraled toward oblivion, they have all too often had one phase of their attack abandon them each game.
More often than not during this stretch, it has been either the offense going to sleep, the starting pitching taking them out of the game early, or some combination of both.
There have also been some games where the bullpen has faltered, though that unit has remained largely very good throughout.
One exception is what led to Familia’s hiccup on Friday, which was a ripple effect of Trevor May‘s struggles on Thursday, which led to May being unavailable and Familia (who was forced into the game in relief of May on Thursday) being asked to pitch a third-straight day the next night.
Meanwhile, as the Mets scramble to keep their NL East hopes alive, there is a potentially much bigger Jacob deGrom problem looming. More on that in a bit.
Of immediate import to the Mets is the fact that they have started their potentially season-defining 13-game stretch against the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants by going 0-3.
As I wrote before Friday’s game, the Mets’ playoff fate could be determined by how they fare during this stretch.
And as Gary Cohen said on the broadcast over the weekend, the Mets probably can’t win the NL East during this stretch, but they could lose it.
Entering play on Monday, the Mets are 2.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East. They are just 2.0 games out in the loss column.
Theoretically, making up two losses over the course of 45 games is very doable. But can this version of the Mets do it?
The Mets have been resilient all season, but it’s getting harder to make up for their shortcomings with deGrom out, Noah Syndergaard still rehabbing, Francisco Lindor not quite ready to return, and Javier Baez now on the IL due to a back issue. The recent injury to Drew Smith, who had become a key cog in the bullpen, also didn’t help matters.
In whatever order, the Mets need their offense to wake up (as has been a need for the entire season) and for the starting rotation to stabilize.
Taijuan Walker has looked much more like his first half self lately, Tylor Megill has remained solid, and Marcus Stroman has continued to come through, but the Mets likely won’t be able to survive if Carrasco continues to struggle.
That takes us to the bigger issue…
Regardless of whether the Mets fight back to win the NL East, it’s hard to see them going very far in the playoffs without deGrom at the top of their rotation.
As things currently stand, the NL East winner will very likely face the Milwaukee Brewers and their trio of aces in the NLDS. This is to take nothing away from Stroman, Walker, and the other Mets starters, but deGrom is simply on another level. And as the likely Game 1 and Game 4 or Game 5 starter in the NLDS, deGrom’s status could swing the series.
Yes, strange things have happened for teams missing some key starting pitchers in the playoffs. Even the 2006 Mets, who lost Pedro Martinez and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez on the eve of their NLDS with the Dodgers, swept LA before losing the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. But while that team persevered, a 2006 Mets playoff squad with Martinez and Hernandez probably reaches the World Series and wins it.
What would a 2021 Mets team be able to do in the playoffs without deGrom and with Syndergaard possibly in the bullpen instead of the rotation?
And what about 2022?
There’s a chance that whatever is causing deGrom’s elbow inflammation clears up in time for him to return this season and make an impact. If not, it could possibly resolve itself, with deGrom being ready to go for the start of 2022.
But what if it doesn’t? What do the Mets do if they are without deGrom for most or all of the 2022 season?
In many ways, the Mets are deGrom, and their chances of doing something special this season or next hinge on having deGrom every five days during the regular season and as their biggest weapon in any postseason series.
Without deGrom, the Mets do not have an ace. In many ways, without deGrom, the Mets do not have much of an identity. And deGrom, who is quite simply the best pitcher in baseball and one of the best to ever do it, is not replaceable.
For deGrom’s sake and for the Mets’ sake, there will hopefully be good news soon on his elbow. If the news isn’t good, 2022 could be imperiled right along with 2021.