Mets not viewing series in LA as 'litmus test'

New York blanked in opener of 4-game set between NL's top 2 teams

June 3rd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Each year when the Major League Baseball schedule is released, the road trip through Los Angeles tends to catch the attention of those in blue and orange. The Dodgers are good. They’re almost always good. And they’re even more often good against the Mets, not so long ago beating their bicoastal cousins a dozen consecutive times.

But these Mets are not those Mets. These Mets have designs on the types of grand things they haven’t experienced since 2015, when the road to the National League pennant went through Dodger Stadium. The Mets figure that may well be the case again in 2022.

Given such context, it would have been difficult to view this weekend’s four-game series at Chavez Ravine as anything other than a heat check for New York, which has spent much of this season lounging just below Los Angeles in the standings as the NL’s second-best team. But the Mets, who were shut out for the first time this season in Thursday’s opener, 2-0, are trying not to view it that way.

“I don’t get into the litmus test,” New York manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s somebody else’s terminology. It’s a competitive situation every night.”

A singular defeat isn’t much to worry about over the course of a 162-game season -- particularly not when it comes against a pitcher such as Tony Gonsolin, who has consistently been one of the NL’s best. The truth is, the Mets have built such a comfortable cushion in the NL East -- now 9 1/2 games over the sub-.500 Braves -- that even if they go winless on their 10-game swing through Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim, they are still guaranteed to return home in first place.

Still, Showalter admitted there tends to be a difference between what the Mets say publicly -- that this is any other game, any other series -- and how they feel privately. The Mets aren’t blind to the fact that the Dodgers may be one of the only NL teams that can match them in skill.

“We respect our opponent,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, who sat out Thursday’s opener due to an injured finger. “They’re a really good team. They’ve been the team in the National League for quite some time.”

The opening act of this series was less about the Dodgers as a whole and more about Gonsolin, the undefeated NL ERA leader who threw six scoreless innings to move to 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA. The Mets moved only one runner into scoring position all night against Gonsolin and a trio of Los Angeles relievers, mustering three hits. New York had been the last team in baseball to avoid being shut out, evading it for 52 consecutive games to open the season.

“We should give credit to ourselves for going 50-plus, almost 60 games without being shut out,” said outfielder Starling Marte, who misplayed Justin Turner’s fly ball in the sixth into an RBI double. “But at the end of the day, you just have to tip your cap to them for doing a good job.”

The Mets’ own starting pitcher, Taijuan Walker, matched Gonsolin over four innings before cracking for single runs in the fifth and the sixth. On this night, it was enough.

More challenges await the rest of this weekend in Los Angeles, as well as next week farther south down the Pacific Coast. The Mets know that. They also know they can’t become champions by beating up on teams like the Nationals and Phillies all summer. If this 10-game road trip is indeed a litmus test, it’s one the Mets welcome -- even if it proves to be rocky at times.

“It’s a team that you have to go out there and you have to go battle every single inning,” Marte said. “They play the game hard, and that’s what we strive to go do. We have to match that same intensity.”