NEW YORK -- Could things have worked out any other way? Could the Mets have given any clearer indication of how the next week might unfold for them? For a team that has spent all season taking one step forward, one-and-a-half steps back, their 3-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday seemed fitting.
With that defeat on their ledger, the Mets split a two-game Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. They have lost eight of their last 13 games to dip to 11-8 in July and 47-54 overall. At a time of year when members of Major League Baseball’s vast middle class are struggling to define themselves, the Mets are the one club that may have done precisely that: They’re the bottom of the middle, a team that has consistently squandered opportunities to be better.
Which is hardly an argument to do anything other than sell at the Trade Deadline.
“It’s been tough like this all year,” outfielder Jeff McNeil said. “I feel like we progress, and then tonight, the bats just kind of fell asleep.”
The details of Wednesday’s loss were familiar to anyone who has watched a Mets game this season. José Quintana delivered a quality start, dodging early trouble to hold the Yankees to three runs -- only two of them earned -- over six innings. But the Mets left runners on base in the third, fourth and fifth innings, never doing quite enough to put Yankees starter Carlos Rodón in peril. Their only run scored on a Brandon Nimmo sacrifice fly.
“We had a couple of opportunities,” manager Buck Showalter said, “but we didn’t cash them in.”
It’s a familiar plotline. When the Mets pitch well, they rarely hit well. When they hit well, the pitching only sometimes follows suit. Were it not for the impending Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, this pattern might continue indefinitely. But the Deadline does exist, in part because it always prompts action. As one of the only potential sellers yet to tell teams they’re willing to sell, the Mets are ripe for that.
Heading into the second half of July, team decision-makers viewed the Mets’ upcoming schedule as a final chance to go on an extended run of success. They had three games to play against the fourth-place White Sox, three against the fourth-place Red Sox, two versus the last-place Yankees and four versus the last-place Nationals. They’ve now completed the first three of those series with a 4-4 record.
“We’ve just got to put it all together,” McNeil said.
It may already be too late for that. Although general manager Billy Eppler can conceivably wait until Monday or Tuesday to make any trades, the time has come for him to talk to teams about his tradable assets -- a group that includes potential free agents Tommy Pham, Mark Canha, David Robertson and Brooks Raley. Rumors will continue to surround others, including Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Quintana, but the easiest and most likely trades for Eppler will involve members of the former group, not the latter.
To that end, Eppler has already begun engaging other GMs on the phone, though he recently noted he’s still open to all three options: buying, selling or doing nothing of note. Following a Subway Series split, the logic of buying would seem less obvious. Standing pat will always be a reasonable strategy, should the Mets believe they’re better off foregoing marginal trades in the hopes of making a last-ditch run up the standings. But enough clubs have interest in their players -- scouts have been following the Mets around for much of the past two weeks -- that selling continues to make sense.
The Mets have had plenty of chances to avoid that fate. They’ve squandered them, and exasperation is clearly showing. In the fourth inning Wednesday, Rodón hit McNeil squarely in the back with a 95 mph fastball, sending him to the dirt. As he sat there, McNeil fired his helmet into the ground, sending it spinning up the third-base line.
Rodón apologized, and afterward, McNeil acknowledged his frustration, saying he knew it was not intentional.
That doesn’t make it hurt any less. It doesn’t make any of this hurt less.
“We’re not in the best spot right now,” McNeil said, “so we need to play good baseball and do it quick.”