John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After an ugly loss in which their all-too obvious flaws were exposed, the Mets suddenly find themselves 8.5 games behind the streaking Braves, and perhaps on the precipice of another lost season.
In June. Again.
Last year they went 5-21 in June to make the rest of the season feel more like an exercise in garbage time. This month hasn't spun out of control quite yet, as the Mets are 6-9 as of Tuesday. But at 34-38 they are only a few games better than their record at this time last year.
And perhaps even more significantly, the Braves again look like a team on the rise, with loads of young talent, as they've won 10 of their last 11 games.
All of which makes Tuesday night, with Jacob deGrom on the mound, feel like an absolute must-win game.
Think about it. Another loss would put the Mets 9.5 games out with Steven Matz going Wednesday night, likely hoping to survive five innings against the high-scoring Braves before turning the game over to a bullpen vying with the Nationals to be declared the worst in the majors.
DeGrom needs to deliver at such a critical time. And let's be real, this is where he needs to make good on that $137.5 million contract he received this spring. After his somewhat mysterious early-season problems, the reigning NL Cy Young winner has looked more like his old self lately, allowing five runs over 19.2 innings in his last three starts.
But the start against the Braves should be revealing, considering that deGrom had a tough time with them in Atlanta on April 14, when he needed 114 pitches to get through 5.0 innings, while allowing three runs.
That was a Sunday night start in which the Braves looked so comfortable against deGrom at times, both with their swings and their takes, that Alex Rodriguez speculated they knew when certain pitches were coming.
The Mets never did find any evidence that deGrom was tipping pitches, but scouts have suggested that Wilson Ramos, who caught that night in Atlanta, was part of the problem, noting that he sets up in his position too early at times, giving away location that can be communicated to a hitter from someone in the dugout -- likely telling him which pitch is coming.
In addition, at least one scout says he has seen Ramos set up in a wider base when he has called for a breaking ball, anticipating that he might have to block it. Again, that's the type of thing other teams pick up on and communicate to hitters, which may or may not be part of the reason deGrom has had more success throwing to Tomas Nido.
For that matter, Ramos has proven to be much more of a defensive liability than the Mets thought when they signed him to a two-year, $19 million contract, after giving up on trying to trade for J.T. Realmuto.
Most glaring is his lack of mobility behind the plate, which has led to him trying to backhand balls in the dirt rather than move to block them as he should. He did it Monday night, trying to backhand a change-up in the dirt, and it led to a wild pitch that allowed runners to move to second and third, eventually costing Zack Wheeler at least one run, maybe two.
Ramos also whiffed on a strike-three pitch to Freddie Freeman that was low but not in the dirt, allowing the Braves' first baseman to reach base on the strikeout.
For the season, Ramos has allowed seven passed balls and 15 wild pitches, and while we all know Mets' pitchers have an issue with stolen bases, the new catcher hasn't thrown well, either, nailing only eight of 62 base-stealers.
The Mets signed Ramos for his bat, obviously, and while he has picked up his offense in recent weeks, a .746 OPS isn't enough to make up for the bad defense.
"He's awful behind the plate," an NL scout said Tuesday. "There's no way around it. Maybe it's the knee surgeries, but his skills have eroded badly."
It's just one of the defensive problems that plague the Mets: Their 54 errors are the most in the National League, and while Amed Rosario has cleaned up the misplays lately, his lack of range to his right continues to be a major weakness that also hurt Wheeler on Monday night.
Defense aside, Wheeler has been a disappointment, regressing after his second-half brilliance last year to the pitcher he was in his early years, negating his dominant stuff with a lack of command that has resulted in too many mistake-pitches, 14 home runs in 15 starts, and a 4.95 ERA.
All of that and the bullpen is by far the Mets' biggest problem, with Jeurys Familia at the point now -- after failing coming in with a 5-3 deficit Monday night -- where he can't be more than a mop-up man, and really should agree to go the minors to work on finding his game.
It's not a pretty picture, and while the Braves have their own issues -- especially in the bullpen -- they also have Dallas Keuchel en route to bolster the starting rotation, and an explosive offense led by young stars -- the latest being rookie Austin Riley and his power bat.
All of which leaves the Mets…where exactly? By the end of their 11-game road trip that includes the Cubs and the Phillies, GM Brodie Van Wagenen could be forced to confront the reality he'll have to sell at the trade deadline.
This team isn't quite at that point yet, but if deGrom can't deliver in a spot that screams for him to be an ace, it will feel like a lost season.
In June. Again.