NEW YORK -- The Mets couldn't continue playing spoiler on Sunday against a Nationals team that may not need the nudge. They couldn't keep Washington's scoreless-innings streak going and they couldn't extend their own positive pitching streak to any great lengths. In the end, they couldn't even keep their 15-0 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field close.
But at least the Mets can enter the season's final month confident in their rotation.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
Steven Matz (Matzy) delivered seven innings of one-run ball in the defeat, completing a rotation turn in which Mets starters posted a 1.13 ERA. Since Aug. 3, that bunch has produced a 2.89 ERA, better than all but the A's, Braves, Dodgers and Rays -- but Tampa Bay does not rely on a traditional starting staff.
"Given where he's been lately, tonight was a big step for him," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of Matz. "He looked like the guy we saw earlier in the season -- throwing the ball over the plate, getting in a rhythm, shaking things off, doing a good job of focusing on the next pitch. He threw a great game for us tonight."
The Mets will take it, considering the five pitchers who have made most of their recent starts -- Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard (Thor), Zack Wheeler (Wheels), Matz and Jason Vargas (Vargy) -- could well comprise the team's 2019 Opening Day rotation.
• Shop for Players' Weekend gear | Mets' nicknames for Players' Weekend
Such roster decisions remain a long way in the future. In late August of a lost season, the Mets are mostly concerned with the well-being of their current starters. Struggling through both injuries and inconsistencies during the second half, Matz rebounded Sunday to hold the Nationals scoreless over the game's first five innings, running the Mets' shutout streak to 24 frames. He finally cracked for a run after allowing consecutive hits to open the sixth, giving up a Juan Soto RBI groundout.
"It's good to go out there for the seventh inning, just keep running back out there," said Matz, who lauded in particular his sinker and changeup. "It's something that's really beneficial."
The Nationals then exploded for eight runs off relievers Paul Sewald and Tyler Bashlor in the eighth and six more in the ninth -- rallies that included a Bryce Harper pinch-hit three-run double, two-run homers by Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton and a Mark Reynolds grand slam.
The Mets could offer no such punch against Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez, who allowed two hits and four walks in six innings, pitching into the sixth for the first time in six career starts.
"We just didn't throw enough strikes," Callaway said. "We just didn't throw the ball over the plate."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Eight in the eighth: With the Mets trailing by just one run entering the eighth, Sewald ran into some foul luck, allowing an infield hit, a walk and a flare to left field to load the bases. He struck out the next batter, but then walked Soto to force in a run. With no left-hander warm in the bullpen to face Harper, Sewald then allowed a game-breaking, bases-clearing double.
The Nationals were far from done. Difo greeted Bashlor with a two-run homer and, following a two-out hit batsman, Eaton clanged his own two-run shot off the right-field foul pole. All told, the Nats sent 11 men to the plate in the inning, scoring eight times.
"If we start matching up there, we start using guys that we don't want to use," Callaway said of the Harper at-bat. "We were hoping that those righties could get through two innings there and keep us close. The bullpen's been tremendous lately. They just didn't throw enough strikes tonight."
The 15-run loss matched the second-worst shutout defeat in Mets history, trailing only a 16-0 loss to the Braves on July 2, 1999. It also tied the Mets' worst margin of defeat in Citi Field history, matching a 16-1 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 20, 2012.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Jeff McNeil (JT) stayed in the game long enough to extend his hitting streak to 11 games with a third-inning single, but departed after six innings due to right quad tightness. McNeil, who classified his injury as "day to day," is batting .475 over the life of his streak -- the longest active run in the Majors.
"Nothing too major," said McNeil, who added that his only prior quad injury was on the opposite side.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Three batters before Soto's RBI groundout, Trea Turner led off the sixth with a fly ball that appeared to hit the orange home run line in left field. Initially ruling it a double, umpires upheld that call following a crew-chief review. Rather than jog around the bases, Turner moved to third on Anthony Rendon's single, then scored on Soto's grounder.
HE SAID IT
"The bullpen's been doing a great job. Today wasn't a great day, but they've been doing a great job. It happens." -- Matz, on the Mets' bullpen, which sported the National League's best August ERA before Sunday
The Mets will play their first game out of the Eastern Time Zone in more than two months when they travel to Chicago for a three-game series at Wrigley Field, kicking off a 10-day road trip. Syndergaard (9-3, 3.38 ERA) will start the 8:05 p.m. ET opener on Monday opposite left-hander Jonathan Lester (14-5, 3.64 ERA).