DENVER -- Even taking into account Seth Lugo's dud performance Wednesday night at Coors Field, where he allowed six runs -- three earned -- in a 10-8 loss to the Rockies, the Mets' starting staff has performed remarkably well in Noah Syndergaard's absence. Since May 29, the day Syndergaard went on the disabled list with a strained right index finger, the Mets rank seventh in the Majors with a 3.28 rotation ERA. Over the past calendar month, they're second with a 3.22 mark.
That statistic bloated only slightly when Lugo allowed six runs Wednesday, beginning with Nolan Arenado's solo homer in the first. An inning later, a Todd Frazier fielding error led to three unearned runs. When Lugo allowed two more in the third inning, Mets manager Mickey Callaway had seen enough, removing him for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fourth.
"I've got some stuff I need to work on," Lugo said. "I'm just going to focus on that."
Despite the early deficit, the Mets never shriveled, scoring eight of their own against Rockies starter Chad Bettis. Half of those came in the fifth inning on Wilmer Flores' sacrifice fly, Brandon Nimmo's bases-loaded walk and Asdrubal Cabrera's two-run single, which briefly gave the Mets the lead. But Ryan McMahon's pinch-hit, three-run homer off Robert Gsellman in the fifth put the Mets behind for good.
And that, not starting pitching, is what's been the problem. Since Lugo began starting games on May 31, New York's bullpen ERA ranks 27th in baseball. Relying heavily on Lugo as a reliever early this season, the Mets have struggled to replace him, particularly with AJ Ramosdone for the year and Anthony Swarzak only recently returned from the disabled list.
Jeurys Familia also returned from the DL last weekend. But without Lugo in the mix, the Mets have struggled to find a back-end formula that works.
"I'm encouraged that we probably have more guys available now than we ever have," Callaway said, putting a positive spin on the situation. "We have some dependable guys out there. … We have more personnel than we have all year at one particular time. The last component is when we get Syndergaard back."
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As far back as Spring Training, Mets officials debated where Lugo might be most effective, in the rotation or the bullpen. Right now, with Syndergaard sidelined, they don't have much of a choice. But the effects of that move on the bullpen are plain to see.
"The one thing that's been affected is the bullpen," Callaway said. "We had to take one of our better relievers and stick him in the rotation. But our rotation has been great."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trailing by just a run in the sixth inning, the Mets loaded the bases on a Dominic Smith double and a pair of one-out walks. The next batter, Kevin Plawecki, ran the count full before grounding a ball to third base, where Arenado turned it into an inning-ending double play.
When asked about the 12 runners the Mets left on base, Callaway chose to laud his offense.
"I thought we scratched and clawed, and our offense did a great job of keeping us in the game the whole time," he said. "I'm encouraged that we're swinging the bats the way we should."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Finishing a home run shy of the cycle, Smith snapped an 0-for-12 stretch at the plate, matching his career high with three hits. The triple was Smith's first as a big leaguer; he had seven in the Minors, including one earlier this season for Triple-A Las Vegas.
"I haven't hit many in my career, so when I'm out there running, sometimes I don't know how to really judge it or when to really go," Smith said. "I was like, 'You know what, I'll just go for it.' Luckily, I made it in there safely."
HE SAID IT
"It's just another ballpark. There's really no excuses. I still have to make pitches and get outs. I didn't do that today." -- Gsellman, on the difficulty of pitching in Coors Field
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Mets feared they lost Cabrera to injury in the seventh, when he grimaced in pain after making an acrobatic tag of Tom Murphy on an inning-ending double play. After pinch-hitter Chris Iannetta struck out swinging, Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco fired to second base to catch Murphy stealing. But Mesoraco's throw was high, forcing Cabrera to catch it and apply the tag as he descended back to earth, banging his left elbow on the ground in the process.
As Cabrera met with Callaway and members of the training staff, umpires confirmed the call via replay. Cabrera remained in the game, suffering nothing more than a bruise.
"He just landed hard on his left elbow," Callaway said. "It was really just a bang, the initial hit that he took going to the ground."
Sporting a 2.47 ERA since the beginning of May, Steven Matz will look to keep rolling when he starts the Mets' series finale Thursday in Denver. Matz will oppose Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland, whose presence should give the Mets reason to stack their lineup with right-handed batters such as Jose Bautista. First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. ET.