By Ernie Palladino
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Just under a month remains before the All-Star break, and the Mets’ season has essentially ended.
Oh, sure, the way baseball is played today, one would love to believe that securing the second wild card spot is always a possibility. That’s why the powers at the MLB expanded the playoffs in the first place; to keep as many teams as possible in the postseason race, thereby filling the ballparks of divisional also-rans with people rather than dust balls.
But the dust and the weeds are about to come to Citi Field. Thanks to a combination of injuries and arrogance, any reason to spend one‘s hard-earned cash on the Mets has vanished.
The record eventually will say the Nationals effectively flushed away Flushing’s own this past weekend. True enough. Not even Mr. Met can look at the team as it stands now and think Terry Collins’ crew will muster enough streaks between now and October to make up the 12-game gap between them and the Dodgers, who currently own that second wild card spot.
But it’s not just because the Nationals won three out of four over the weekend. Washington ran away with the division a long time ago. Its current 7-3 season series dominance over the Mets served simply as an organizational yardstick of the difference between the two franchises. The Mets have long been playing catchup with those guys.
The wild card, though, always seemed a certainty from both mathematical and practical standpoints.
Now, it’s a pipedream, one that we should have seen coming from the beginning.
Blame part of that on bad luck. Nobody can predict injuries, and certainly not to the extent the Mets have suffered them this season. Collins is the last guy to use them as an excuse. But the reality is that this team started the year banged up, and it has only gotten worse.
No team would survive the mountain of hurts the baseball gods have visited upon the Mets. Few would make up for the extended loss of an ace like Noah Syndergaard, whose damaged lat muscle has him still weeks away from picking up a baseball.
And though the lineup has done relatively well, can anyone dispute the loss of Yoenis Cespedes did not have a deleterious effect on the whole team? Even now, with the bad hamstring healed, a sore heel forced Collins to sit him Sunday.
Collins obviously will have to nurse Cespedes through the rest of the season, which is not a situation any manager wants for his best hitter.
Running a solid operation would be tough enough if the hospital list ended there. But this season, injury-free days have become big news. In the course of the last week, in fact, they lost Matt Harvey, Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, and Juan Lagares, and none of them look like short-term absences.
The mental weight of the never-ending ebb of key personnel must take its toll in the locker room. Collins is urging his team to keep grinding. But hope is a fragile commodity, and this latest spate may sufficiently tilted the scale toward surrender.
Injuries were bad enough. But this team had already found itself behind the proverbial eight-ball when the offseason ended. Besides Jeurys Familia’s looming suspension, general manager Sandy Alderson well knew that he had holes in the bullpen front to back. His biggest move? Re-sign Jerry Blevins.
As well as Blevins has done in compiling a 4-0 record and 2.25 ERA in middle relief, that’s how badly the others have looked. Unless your name is Dellin Betances, elevating the eighth-inning guy to closer is always a gamble. Addison Reed is not Betances, and he has had his bad moments filling in for the injured Familia. With Collins playing mix-and-match in front of him, the collection of Quad-A arms that make up the majority of the pen have failed to hold leads.
At least that didn’t factor into the weekend’s failure. The Mets never led the Nationals until the fourth inning of Sunday’s 5-1 victory, 30 innings worth of chasing.
With questionable arms like Neil Ramirez, Rafael Montero, Josh Edgin, and Paul Sewald manning the front end, getting to Reed will always be an adventure.
Alderson’s misplaced trust created a bullpen mess that will remain unfixable until the offseason.
He’s being just as stubborn about bringing up prized shortstop Amed Rosario. But Rosario won’t turn into some magical rookie leader, anyway. A city only gets one of them every decade or so, and the Yanks have that one in Aaron Judge.
Thankfully, the Mets are done with the Nationals for now. But now they head out on a 10-game trip to Los Angeles, San Franciso, and Miami. The Dodgers are 18 games over .500, with the hellacious Clayton Kershaw on tap for Monday. He has held opponents to two or fewer runs over seven innings in seven of his last eight starts.
So things can get worse. Given the Mets’ problems, be them functions of ill fortune or self-infliction, they probably won’t get better.
The season is over.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino