NEW YORK -- Turns out the Mets’ problem is not beating good teams so much as it’s simply beating the Braves. In dropping a 2-1 game to their longtime rivals on Sunday to seal a series sweep at Citi Field, the Mets fell to 5-11 (.313) against Atlanta this season. They are 62-52 (.544) against everyone else.
“We need to figure the Braves out, that’s for sure,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
Sunday’s loss was hardly the fault of Steven Matz, who allowed one run -- the first of Josh Donaldson’s two solo homers -- in six innings despite battling a blister on his left middle finger. Blame fell more fully on the offense, which did nothing against Dallas Keuchel before mustering a rally that fell short in the ninth.
“Atlanta’s a tough team,” added outfielder J.D. Davis. “We’re just going to recharge.”
The Mets still have time to do that, thanks in large part to a schedule that works in their favor. Accomplishing these three things would help:
Find a lineup that works
Now that Jeff McNeil is back from the injured list, the Mets feature one of the most potent lineup tops in baseball. Although Callaway hinted that he could still shift McNeil to leadoff, there’s plenty of merit in sticking with a top six of Amed Rosario, McNeil, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Davis and Wilson Ramos.
The final two spots are where things get murky. Todd Frazier played the final seven innings of the Mets’ loss on Friday, then all 18 over the weekend, finishing 1-for-10. Since hitting a dramatic, game-tying homer Aug. 9 against the Nationals, Frazier is 8-for-53 (.151) with two RBIs in 14 games. Those numbers include the double-play ball he hit in the second inning on Sunday, squelching the Mets’ most promising rally against Keuchel.
“We have opportunities and we squander them,” Frazier said. “That’s everybody. At the end of the day, we’re not capitalizing on opportunities.”
To date, Callaway has been consistent in keeping Frazier in the lineup. But with McNeil healthy, it’s becoming harder to justify. The Mets gave McNeil a cameo at third base on his Minor League rehab assignment; it would not be surprising to see him start at that position on Tuesday against right-hander Yu Darvish and the Cubs.
Add in missing pieces
Next to return from the IL should be Brandon Nimmo, who has been on a Minor League rehab assignment for a week and a half and, on Sunday, produced his best game with two doubles, a single, a walk and three runs scored at Triple-A Syracuse. Nimmo’s return from a bulging cervical disc should push Juan Lagares back to the bench, giving the Mets an even deeper lineup.
Then there’s Jed Lowrie, whom general manager Brodie Van Wagenen expects back in the Majors this season. Lowrie’s rehab may be going slower than Nimmo’s, but there’s growing optimism around the team that he can make his Mets debut and produce in September. To date, Lowrie has done nothing to endear himself to fans since signing a two-year, $20 million contract, simply because he hasn’t played a single inning. Still, he has a chance to transform the narrative if he can help the team down the stretch.
Control their own destiny
In losing five of their six games against the Braves this month, the Mets torpedoed any fading opportunity they may have had to make a late run at the NL East crown. So, fine. A Wild Card berth was always a more reasonable goal, and the Mets remain very much in that conversation with 32 games to play.
The next 12 of those will come against three of the four teams they are trailing: the Cubs, Phillies and Nationals. Winning most, if not all, of those series would solidify the Mets as contenders heading into mid-September, when their schedule grows relatively easy. Losing two or three of them would likely suck the drama out of the rest of their season.
“Every team from here on out is going to be pretty much a playoff contender,” Frazier said. “We’ve just got to worry about winning. There’s no more to say. There’s no chemical. There’s nothing else. You’ve got to win games.”