NEW YORK -- Much has changed since Oct. 9, 2015, the only time, before Saturday, that Jacob deGrom met Clayton Kershaw in a professional game. That night, deGrom struck out 13 in one of the signature performances of his career, leveling up as a pitcher in front of a national audience.
Two and a half years later, deGrom has only improved, establishing himself as an early National League Cy Young contender. Kershaw, meanwhile, has fallen slightly downward, as injuries have begun to undermine him. The gap between the 30-year-olds -- Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer, and deGrom, a late bloomer -- has decreased if not reversed.
But the difference in supporting casts looms large. Whereas Kershaw's includes reigning NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, perennial MVP candidate Justin Turner and one of the game's better bullpens and best benches, deGrom's features struggling teammates in nearly every area. That group could do little to help deGrom after he gave up an uncharacteristic three runs Saturday in an 8-2 loss to the Dodgers.
"I'm frustrated with how I threw the ball tonight," deGrom said after the Mets dropped their fifth straight game, falling a season-high 12 under .500.
Unable to support deGrom on many of his better nights, the Mets fell well short of doing so Saturday. Instead, after touching up Kershaw for two runs in three innings of what was effectively a rehab start for the three-time Cy Young Award winner, their bats fell silent. To ensure an unhappy result for the fans at Citi Field, several of whom placed brown paper bags over their heads during the later innings, the Dodgers piled on with a Matt Kemp grand slam off Robert Gsellman in the eighth. That forced deGrom to absorb his third loss in his last four starts despite a 2.17 ERA over that stretch.
"My changeup was terrible," deGrom said. "My slider was good at times, but other times it wasn't even close to being a strike. So I had one pitch, my fastball, that I couldn't really locate. You're trying to get big league hitters out with a pitch that you don't really know where it's going, and the other ones were garbage. I just wasn't very good tonight."
The damage against deGrom occurred early: a Player Page for Max Muncy solo homer in the first inning and a Chris Taylor pinch-hit, two-run double in the fourth. The latter hit gave the Dodgers a lead they never relinquished.
Afterward, manager Mickey Callaway continued to laud his players for their work ethic and approach, bemoaning only that "we want to win and we're not." His players offered more of a reality check as the Mets near the halfway point of the season.
"It's tough right now," outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. "Obviously we're not happy with the results."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
In a one-run game, the Mets put the tying run on third base when Nimmo tripled with one out in the seventh. But Todd Frazier struck out looking and Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to strand Nimmo on third.
Half an inning later, Kemp hit his grand slam to turn a close game into a laugher.
A rare bright spot for the Mets, Jose Bautista doubled home the Mets' first run in the second inning and homered in the eighth, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs. Bautista has reached base safely in each of his last nine games, sporting a .615 on-base percentage over that stretch.
"I'm making strides in the right direction," said Bautista, who signed with the Mets last month. "I feel like I'm having good at-bats. I just want to maintain that consistency -- that's what I'm hoping for."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Entering in the ninth inning, reliever Drew Smith worked around a pair of walks during his Major League debut, dialing his fastball up to 96 mph. Smith, whom the Mets received from the Rays for Lucas Duda last summer, joined the team Friday but did not appear in that night's game. A native Texan, he planned to visit Manhattan for the first time in his life following Saturday's game.
HE SAID IT
"If we ever come out and think, 'Well, it's too late,' and just give up on the season, then things will get even worse. This is with us coming to the field ready to go, working every day. I don't even want to think about what things could be like if we came to the field with that attitude: 'Well, it's too late.' I think every guy is just coming to the field with the hope that today's the day that we turn it around." -- Nimmo
Bautista should continue to see time in the starting lineup as the Mets face another lefty, Rich Hill, in Sunday's series finale at Citi Field. The Mets have not announced their own starter for the 1:10 p.m. ET game after scratching Jason Vargas due to a calf issue. Most likely, it will be a bullpen game for the Mets.