by Paul West
In the years following the Mets’ pennant win and consecutive playoff runs, the proverbial sky has been falling at Citi Field with shocking regularity. Injuries–some clearly preventable–questionable administrative and managerial decisions and erratic performance have conspired to make Mets fandom a frustrating roller coaster ride. At the start of his tenure, new manager Mickey Callaway spoke bravely about his team’s resurgence; and just like last year, the Mets began the season looking good. Things have since taken a turn for the worse yet again, but in ways more inexplicable. This time, the panic-button crowd is on to something.
After alternating strong pitching outings and impressive hitting outbursts, the Mets have come crashing back to Earth. This weekend marked arguably their lowest low in years: a three-game sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins, who entered the series at 10-31 and finished the weekend by shutting the Mets out in consecutive games. Jacob deGrom was pummeled in the series opener on Friday night; the Mets battled back, finishing with the based loaded in a 8-6 loss, but it only got worse from there. In this weekend’s shutouts, the Mets looked downtrodden and spiritless at times, stranding the few runners they got in scoring position and often getting better at-bats from their pitchers than from the heart of their lineup. Michael Conforto, who’d just begun to heat up, was concussed by a Robinson Cano shoulder to the jaw on a ball that was clearly Conforto’s; then, adding insult to injury, Cano repeatedly showed a woeful lack of hustle–not false-enthusiasm, sprint-for-no-good-reason hustle, but the sort of baseline hustle you’d expect from a veteran brought in to inspire a young team. Callaway has tread on the wrong side of the double edge of outward calm; and expectation grows more widespread that his tenure may end rather quickly.
Meanwhile–and this is another double-edged situation–the Washington Nationals, their primary nemesis in recent years, come to town battling setbacks of their own. The Nationals are languishing in fourth place, now only a game and a half behind the Mets, and are in similarly dire straits; and while the Mets open the series with what appears to be a literal ‘opener’ in front of a taxed and erratic bullpen, the Nats will lead with lefty Patrick Corbin, whom the Mets passed on this offseason, who sports a 2.91 ERA so far.
The Mets and Nationals are both playing to preserve the viability of their 2019 seasons. This isn’t to say that whomever wins this series has saved their season, nor is it to say that losing this series will spell doom; but it behooves the Mets to recover their stride, confidence, and sense of threat potential, starting today. If they let their divisional nemesis come into Citi Field and dispatch them the way they were dispatched in Miami, we’ll look back at late May as the end of the Mets’ 2019 hopes.