By Brad Kallet
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The Mets are now 16 games into their almost inconceivable 32-game divisional marathon to begin the 2017 season.
Sitting at .500, having played inferior divisional foes mostly at home, there’s no other way to say it: The first two-and-a-half weeks have been an unmitigated disappointment.
I see the merits of the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” argument, but I don’t quite buy it. Sure, on the one hand there are 146 games left to play; a myriad of happenings that we can not foresee will change the course of the season time and time again between now and October. But I’m a believer that each game sets the tone for the next one, and the next series, and the next month. And even though there are 162 games, each one counts as much as the one before it and the one after it (see 2007 and 2008).
So far, the Mets have played three teams that, by any measure, are worse than them. They have played three against the Braves, seven against the Marlins and six against the Phillies, nine of which have been contested within the friendly confines of Citi Field. Going .500 over that favorable stretch is simply unacceptable. For the Mets to take the NL East, they need to feast on lesser competition. They needed to beat up on these clubs this month, and instead they’ve played to their level.
In September, when the Mets are two games out of a playoff spot, they’ll want those 13 games against the Marlins and Phillies back, and will kick themselves for letting those clubs steal some heartbreaking victories that the Mets should have had comfortably in their back pocket.
The beginning of this stretch began according to plan. After splitting six with Atlanta and Miami in the first two series, the Mets went to Philadelphia and promptly swept the Phils right out of Citizens Bank Park. The following evening, in Miami, New York pulled out an epic 16-inning win to improve to 7-3.
Then, with a chance to really bust out of the gate with a vengeance, the wheels began to fall off. The Marlins won the next three games, each in their final at-bat. Then on Tuesday against Philadelphia, with Terry Collins’ club up a run with two outs in the eighth inning, Jose Reyes dropped a lazy fly ball on the infield grass that continued the frame. To the surprise of absolutely no one in the ballpark, the Phillies went on to tie the game in that inning before ultimately handing the Mets the worst loss of this young season.
Jay Bruce saved the Mets on Wednesday night, driving in all of the team’s five runs to snap the losing streak, but the team appeared completely lifeless and uninspired in the rubber game on Thursday. With ace Noah Syndergaard on the hill, the Mets lost 6-2 in a sloppy game in which they had one more hit (four) than they had errors (three).
What’s most disheartening about this lackluster start is that the Mets had been mostly healthy for it, and still didn’t win consistently. It was just a matter of time before the injury bug landed in Flushing, and on Wednesday night reality set in. Lucas Duda hyperextended his left elbow and has since been sent for tests. Travis d’Arnaud suffered a right wrist contusion, though he did pinch-hit on Thursday, and Wilmer Flores caught an infection, which is expected to sideline him through the weekend.
And those issues pale in comparison to what’s going on with Yoenis Cespedes, who departed Thursday night’s game with a hamstring cramp. It’s unclear how serious the injury is, or if it’s even serious at all. He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI on Friday, but it stands to reason that he won’t be able to play this weekend. The Mets have been a completely different team the last two years without Cespedes on the field, and all of a sudden the roster looks a bit vulnerable.
The setback, naturally, comes just as the Mets are set to welcome in the Nationals for a three-game set. Six of New York’s next nine games are against Bryce Harper & Co., and the Nats, the biggest threat to the Mets’ playoff hopes, have looked like the far superior team in the early going. This next week-and-a-half is far more critical than the early season calendar suggests. Washington can put the Mets in an early hole with a pair of series victories.
There’s a ton of baseball left to be played, so, no, I’m not going to panic, and nor should you. But I’m frustrated and lamenting the painfully obvious missed opportunities. In June, when the Mets have to play the Rangers, Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers and Giants, they’ll remember this first month and regret the fact that they failed to take advantage of such a golden opportunity.
We won’t know for many months, but the Mets might very well end up looking back on this uninspiring, underachieving start with compunction.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet