'Pen letdown a too-familiar ending for Mets

At 81-game mark, New York is a season-high seven games under .500

June 27th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Another night, another lead, another blown save for the Mets, who logged their Major League-leading 19th on Wednesday in a 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Phillies. The defeat was the Mets’ fourth straight, dropping them a season-high seven games under .500 and keeping them double-digit games back of the Braves in the National League East.

In a vacuum, it was a loss. Take a step back, and it’s a trend. This is where the Mets stand exactly halfway into a season that began with high aspirations: They are 37-44, boasting a better record than only two National League teams. While they remain close enough to the playoff fringes to make a storybook run, the door to that possibility remains open only a crack.

“Not where we want to be,” was how manager Mickey Callaway put it hours before Jay Bruce hit a walk-off RBI double  at Citizens Bank Park. “We’re better than this, that’s the bottom line. I think our players know that. We know that. We have put ourselves in a position at times to win a lot more games than we have, and then certain parts don’t go right for us.”

Typically, the parts fall out of sync in just the way they did Wednesday. Jason Vargas gave the Mets a strong enough start, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, and a few key members of the offense did their thing -- a home run and an RBI double for Jeff McNeil, a homer in a third straight game for Dominic Smith. But the Mets’ 28th-ranked bullpen faltered again. Tabbed to protect a three-run lead in the seventh, Seth Lugo allowed an RBI double to Cesar Hernandez and a game-tying, two-run single to Jean Segura -- most of the damage coming after catcher Tomas Nido could not corral a potential inning-ending third strike that skipped to the backstop.

“Just a weird hop,” Nido said. “It just didn’t go my way.”

Three innings later, rookie reliever Stephen Nogosek allowed a walk and a single before Bruce hit an RBI double over the head of center fielder Juan Lagares.

“That’s one of the situations you dream of ever since you’re a little kid, coming into a tie ballgame facing some of the best hitters in the league,” Nogosek said. “It just didn’t work out.”

“Just didn’t go my way” and “just didn’t work out” have been common utterances around these parts, with cracks on the Mets’ roster becoming more apparent daily. Good things have happened also for the Mets -- Vargas’ resurgence, McNeil’s All-Star-caliber campaign and Pete Alonso’s standout rookie season, to name three. Relatively speaking, the Mets have been healthy. In the cases of McNeil, Alonso and Smith, they’ve enjoyed best-case seasons from some of their core young players. Jacob deGrom has thrived. Relievers Edwin Diaz and Lugo have been solid enough, if not entirely perfect. Yet the sum of all those parts has continually fallen short.

It’s a cocktail that’s one part roster construction, one part in-game strategy, one part rotten luck. No one -- not general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, nor Callaway, nor anyone on the roster -- is completely free of blame, even as they all try to put an optimistic spin on things.

“I think when you look at the end of the season, you are what your record is,” Callaway said. “Until that point, we’re going to continue every single day to be the best we can be. We’re never going to accept failure.”

In truth, there is still time for the Mets to turn in a better direction, much as they did last year in tying for the NL East’s best record after the All-Star break. That wasn’t enough for New York to work its way back into playoff contention, nor to build the foundation of a winning team heading into 2019. But if the Mets can start their renaissance earlier this time or do more with it, perhaps better days are indeed on the horizon.

“They all sting,” Callaway said. “It’s another one, we had a lead with not many outs to go, and we just can’t hold it. If we’d have done that consistently all season, we’d be there right with everybody at the top. It hasn’t happened.”