NEW YORK -- When the Mets’ and Braves’ final two games of April were postponed due to rain, adding a mid-August doubleheader to their schedule, the implications were obvious. At that point, New York was three games behind Atlanta in the National League East. A four-game series over three days at Citi Field smelled of opportunity. Nothing short of the division might be on the line.
By the time the Mets reached Saturday, however, circumstances had changed. Dramatically. The games in Queens served only as an unneeded reminder of the gulf between these teams. Long since removed from realistic contention, the Mets lost both halves of their doubleheader, enduring a 21-3 bludgeoning in the matinee before falling meekly in the nightcap, 6-0.
For the Mets, it was about as unsightly as the scores indicated. In the ninth inning of Game 1, the Braves scored eight runs off position player Danny Mendick. In the eighth inning of Game 2, the Mets committed multiple errors on a single play to spark a three-run Atlanta rally. All told, the Mets’ archrivals have outscored them, 34-3, over the first three games of the series, marking the largest run differential over a three-game stretch in franchise history.
“Today was definitely a tough day,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “When you lose, it’s tough. When you lose two in one day, it makes it even tougher. The emotions, they kind of double, they quadruple.”
Expected to contend with one another for NL East supremacy, the Mets and Braves instead began moving in wildly different directions at the start of June. New York’s downturn accelerated when the Braves took three in a row from them in Atlanta, much as they did late last season to knock a much more competitive Mets team out of first place. Still, there was plenty of time to recover. The Mets used little of it wisely, losing enough games in June and July to prompt them to sell at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.
Now, the Mets and Braves appear as mismatched on paper as the scores of the games they’ve played. As one example: five of the players in New York’s Game 1 starting lineup were in the Minors to open the season. Five of the players in Atlanta’s Game 1 starting lineup were on the NL All-Star team.
The Mets did choose this direction deliberately, believing a sell-off would set them up for future success. But that doesn’t make Saturday’s no-show any less painful for a team that has lost 10 of 12 this month.
“After the Trade Deadline, our season has been similar to how it was prior to the Trade Deadline,” Lindor said. “The lows have been longer than the highs.”
Making matters worse for the Mets is that they cannot even realistically play spoiler against a team they would very much like to spoil. The Braves are cruising to a sixth consecutive NL East title, with a double-digit lead over the Phillies and little reason to worry. The Mets are 1-8 against them this season and, with only four head-to-head games left, once again guaranteed a losing record vs. Atlanta.
Throughout Saturday’s proceedings, boos rained down at Citi Field -- for Lindor, who finished 0-for-4 in the only game he played; for designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who homered to drive in the Mets’ only runs, but has nonetheless become a symbol of Mets dysfunction; for Mendick and a cycle of actual Mets relievers; and more. Only José Quintana, who pitched six effective innings in the nightcap, seemed immune to the tenor of the day.
“It’s tough, but I know all my teammates tried to come back,” Quintana said. “We kept pushing.”
Those pushes simply did not result in any sort of positive momentum. To the contrary, following a strikeout in the eighth inning of Game 2, first baseman Pete Alonso returned to the dugout and slammed his helmet repeatedly into the dugout bench.
“It’s hard to stay positive in moments like this,” Lindor said. “It’s very hard. But you’ve got to stay optimistic and understand that there’s something you can get out of this every single day that you come to the field.”