Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
For most of Monday's 8-6 loss to Washington, the Mets dazzled both the crowd and their opponents. From Jacob deGrom's masterful pitching to his safety squeeze in the sixth, from Juan Lagares' pair of stolen bases to Brandon Nimmo's latest triple, the team danced all over the Nationals, and looked capable of contending for a division title.
Then came the eighth inning, when the bullpen, so masterful this month, couldn't find the strike zone. The sequence ended with Jeurys Familia's first blown save of the year, ruining what could have been a magical evening. When Asdrubal Cabrera made the incomprehensible decision to dash for third with one out in the ninth, the loss turned from disappointing to ghastly.
The Mets have built up enough goodwill with their fans and in the standings to withstand a tough game, but this defeat was hardly meaningless. It arrested momentum and halted a sense of growing excitement around the team.
Don't believe what you hear about April baseball. It matters, and this series against the Nats represents the chance to build both emotional and mathematical equity.
Does this three-game set represent a fair comparison of the two teams? Not when Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard aren't pitching. Not when Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy are hurt. Not when Ryan Zimmerman is batting .111, Trea Turner .219 and Michael A. Taylor .118.
But math is math. The more the Mets can pile on before Washington wakes up for good, the more they will be able to withstand the season's inevitable slumps.
Look no further than the 2015 team. The addition of veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer signalled to the clubhouse that the front office was serious about winning again, and ace Matt Harvey was ready to return from Tommy John surgery. Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard were emerging. The rebuild was over.
Or so the Mets hoped. How these things work out are never known until the season actually begins. Back then, bolstered by an 11-game winning streak, the 2015 team went 15-8 in April. In addition to persuading the Mets that they were actually good, those victories ended up functioning as money in the bank during May and June, months in which the team posted losing records, but sunk no lower than second place in the National League East.
Many times in 2015, then-manager Terry Collins noted that the Mets' fast start -- the way they "got out of the gate," is how he would put it -- saved their season. Everything that followed, from Wilmer Flores' tears to Cespedes' blazing arrival, to Daniel Murphy's stunning power surge in October, was made possible by April.
This month could serve the same function for the 2018 Mets. But they'll need to shake off a weird night and start rolling again on Tuesday.