NEW YORK — Perhaps it was an omen when, hours before the first pitch of a doubleheader against the league’s best team, Buck Showalter lamented that he was not allowed to use a position player to pitch the night before. The Mets had not trailed by enough.
That would not be a problem before long.
The Mets were swept in Saturday’s doubleheader by scores of 21-3 and 6-0. It was infielder Danny Mendick who got to record the final four outs of the opener, though he yielded eight runs in the process. It was his second appearance this month.
The Mets have lost the first three games of this series to Atlanta by a cumulative score of 34-3. No Mets team in history has ever been outscored by more in a three-game stretch. (The previous record, ironically enough, had been held not by a moribund early-1960s Mets squad but by the 2006 division-winning Mets, who lost three straight by a tally of 32-4 that September.)
There’s one more in this series Sunday night, on national television.
After the trade deadline, owner Steve Cohen said the team would not roll out a 2024 squad “that we’re going to be embarrassed by.” Unfortunately, he made no such promises for the remainder of 2023. Since the trade deadline, the Mets are 2-10 with a minus-47 run differential. They’re only a half-game ahead of the last-place Nationals.
“Today was definitely a tough day,” said Francisco Lindor.
Let’s explore a few takeaways from a long and, for the Mets, fruitless day at the yard:
With Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo nursing injuries, the lineup for Saturday’s opener would have felt thin for a Grapefruit League road game, containing as it did a starting outfield of minor-league free agents (Abraham Almonte, Rafael Ortega and DJ Stewart left to right) and a starting shortstop claimed off waivers (Jonathan Araúz). The starting pitcher, Denyi Reyes, was also a minor-league free-agent signing in the winter. Four of the five had to be added to the 40-man roster within the past two weeks.
That lineup could do no harm against former Mets farmhand Allan Winans, whom Atlanta plucked in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2021. Winans fired seven shutout innings in his second career start. Reyes allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings, though the defense behind him abetted the Atlanta offense.
The defense was shaky all day. Atlanta dropped a couple of run-scoring bloops in front of Stewart in right field in the opener. In the nightcap, Ozzie Albies raced home from first on a ground ball to second base thanks to errors by both Mendick and Tim Locastro.
Ozzie Albies scores from first & the Braves have 2-0 lead!
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/dURkzwYjgS
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) August 13, 2023
Daniel Vogelbach’s three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday afternoon is all the offense the Mets have mustered in the series.
“You’re basically talking about 18 innings of really being challenged offensively. It’s hard to be competitive in those games against that quality a team unless we figure out a way to score some runs,” Showalter said. “We’ve got some people trying to make an impression and trying to make a mark for the team as we go forward, and it’s going to be inconsistent for a little while.”
Reid Garrett, the 27th man and one of several waiver claims the Mets have worked through their bullpen this season, allowed a pair of three-run homers to push the opener well out of reach.
The Mets have used four different relievers they claimed off waivers this season: Garrett, Dennis Santana, Phil Bickford and Edwin Uceta. They have combined to throw 25 innings and allow 22 earned runs (7.52 ERA).
That’s been part of a larger issue: New York’s shuttle relievers — the guys with options going back and forth to Syracuse — have not performed at the major-league level. The sestet of Jeff Brigham, Grant Hartwig, John Curtiss, Jimmy Yacabonis, Zach Muckenhirn, Vinny Nittoli and T.J. McFarland has combined for 94 1/3 innings and 50 earned runs (4.77 ERA). Hartwig (3.27 ERA in 16 games) has been the lone standout there.
The Mets have talked about building up their pitching development. Yes, a main focus of that will be on finding legit major-league starters from within. Another part of it is getting strong major-league production from the depth group in a way they haven’t yet this season.
José Quintana was once again very good in the nightcap. The lefty allowed a single run on four hits over six innings, and he has yet to allow a home run in five starts. (Dating back to last season, in fact, Quintana has yielded a single home run in his past 138 2/3 innings.)
But despite his 3.03 ERA over five starts, Quintana is 0-4 and the Mets 0-5 when he pitches. That’s the offense’s fault: New York has scored just three runs while Quintana is in the game this season.
“He’s pitched a lot better than getting those losses,” said Showalter, who loved the way Quintana pushed through his sixth and final inning.
“It’s frustrating,” Quintana said about the lack of run support.
As we’ve written about Pete Alonso’s future these last two weeks, some commenters have pointed to Atlanta’s decision to let Freddie Freeman walk in free agency and trade for Matt Olson as a replacement as a possible blueprint for the Mets. You don’t need to pay the big bucks for a franchise cornerstone if you can find a younger, cheaper replacement, is the theory.
Of course, the catch here is: Who is the younger, cheaper replacement like Olson that the Mets could conceivably trade for? Olson smashed two homers in the afternoon game giving him a league-leading 42 on the season — a pace for nearly 60.
The Mets can take solace in this: At least the 1996 Cardinals had their minus-31 stretch against Atlanta at a worse time. St. Louis was up 3-1 in the NLCS before Atlanta came back with wins of 14-0, 3-1 and 15-0 to win the pennant.
(Photo of Pete Alonso: John Jones / USA Today)