WASHINGTON — The Mets had tasted prosperity for the first time in a long while, and so that was probably why the 5-1 loss the Nationals slapped on them Wednesday night was so frustrating. They had dragged themselves back to .500 from three below on the strength of weakness: two teams that entered Wednesday night a combined 29 games under .500.
(And, yes, one of those teams has “Nationals” stenciled across the chest of their jerseys, but that name also presently sits in fourth place in the NL East and was begging to be buried.)
Patrick Corbin was brilliant for the home team, and that’s going to happen.
“The score wasn’t outrageous,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said, “but it never felt like we were close because of who was pitching for them.”
In truth, the Mets’ first loss in a week (thanks to two off days and one rainout) provided an explicit reminder of the things that still ail this team with 41 games in the books and 121 left to come:
You can certainly argue the glut of idle days this week could have provided Callaway with the motivation to be a little extra urgent. Zack Wheeler could have pitched on full rest Wednesday. Jacob deGrom could have gone Thursday. Wednesday’s starter, Wilmer Font, could have been saved for the weekend, against whatever less-than-frightening lineup the Marlins will throw at the Mets.
Maybe that would have helped. Maybe if Corbin isn’t staked to an early 3-0 lead last night he doesn’t mow through the Mets for eight innings, looking like every bit the nine-figure prize he was last offseason. Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. The Mets are actually getting a break this series, missing both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. This was the game they would’ve had the negative matchup regardless of whether it was Font or Wheeler.
Still, that would’ve only been a short-term answer. The fact is, the Mets are strikingly thin in their rotation, and so far the solutions they’ve turned to — Font for two starts, Chris Flexen for one — have proven less than satisfying. This isn’t a call to go big-ticket and sign Dallas Kuechel (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea).
But there will be more nights like this when the Mets will need to look for rotation answers. The team is adamant about keeping Seth Lugo in the bullpen, for instance, but if Jeurys Familia could become reliable — and he looked good in one garbage-time inning Wednesday — can they really afford the luxury of Lugo, Familia and Robert Gsellman in the pen, especially since Lugo has never been shy about his desire to start?
Backs of baseball cards
We won’t pick on Todd Frazier here, because there’s been a lot of that lately, and even though he struck out feebly in his lone at-bat Wednesday he isn’t the only veteran not performing to expectations.
The other, of course, is Robinson Cano. Cano’s 0-for-4 (with three strikeouts) lowered his average on the season to .245, which is 59 points below his career average. He has looked especially vulnerable against lefties — none of his at-bats against Corbin were particularly competitive.
It seemed a striking contrast to see him struggle here, because it was on Opening Day when he homered off Scherzer for the Mets’ first run of the season, and added another at-bat and a sterling defensive play and seemed ready to justify the Mets’ decision to make the controversial deal that brought him and Edwin Diaz here in the winter.
Cano has twice been hit on the hands by pitches, and he was raging hot when that happened. He hasn’t been raging hot for a while. And a Robbie Cano that resembles the Mets’ version of Robbie Alomar … well, that’s too brutal for the Mets to even contemplate.
“He’s going to bust out and eventually get it rolling,” Callaway insisted. “He’s our second baseman. I think at the end of the year you’ll look up and see numbers that are awfully familiar.”
It’s a good theory. It’d be a better practice.
The Mickey Watch
It will be the pink elephant in every clubhouse the Mets work until it isn’t. It’s not an easy way to manage, and so far Callaway has seemed equal to the challenge, and the three-game winning streak did seem reminiscent of the many times Terry Collins found ways to Band-Aid this team through tough stretches in 2015 and ’16. Winning streaks are helpful.
But all it takes is one extended losing streak …