For Mets, it's make-or-break time ahead of Deadline

July 15th, 2023

NEW YORK -- With the dawn of the season’s second half came the reality that right now, every win and loss counts more.

Standing in the Mets’ dugout late Friday afternoon, general manager Billy Eppler did not dismiss the notion that the next two weeks -- the fortnight leading into Trade Deadline week -- will influence his strategic goals. In that sense, a win is worth more than a win, as each one gives Eppler additional reason to consider buying. But each loss is worth more than a loss, as it decreases Eppler’s incentive to spend additional resources on this roster.

In that sense, the second half of July has become a season-within-a-season for the Mets, who can ill afford slip-ups like the 6-0 defeat the Dodgers handed them on Friday. Justin Verlander walked six batters -- his most in a game in more than six years -- and three of them turned into runs. The Mets never recovered at Citi Field, suffering from the same pitching woes and offensive malaise that defined their first half. They walked nine men in total. They mustered just one hit and were shut out for the ninth time.

“It sucks,” Verlander said. “This was not a good game of baseball in any facet.”

Count it as another dispiriting loss on the ledger for a team that’s dropped three in a row to fall to 42-49, a season-high 19 1/2 games out of first place and eight back of a National League Wild Card spot with 71 to play. Entering the night, Fangraphs gave the Mets a 15.4 percent chance to make the playoffs. It will be lower than that on Saturday morning, and lower still following any additional defeats.

“We have the sense of urgency,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “We’re all pushing. We’re all trying. It’s one of those where you can only hope to get going.”

What’s clear is that the Trade Deadline will not wait for the Mets. Already, Eppler said, the pace of discussions between GMs has increased. The tone has grown more serious. The, “Hey, we might be looking to…” discussions of June have evolved into the more specific demands of July. It’s still a bit too far in advance of the Aug. 1 Deadline for blockbuster trades to become de rigueur, but significant deals have happened this early in the past. The Deadline will start sizzling soon.

If the Mets want to be involved on the buying side of that equation, they’ll need to begin playing better immediately. Otherwise, it will make far more sense for them to end up at the seller’s table, which Eppler didn’t view as particularly plausible heading into the season.

“The circumstances are what the circumstances are,” he said Friday, when asked about that change of events. “You try not to get surprised by anything, and just do your homework and be positioned to take advantage of opportunities as they come.”

Already, the Mets have played poorly enough that it’s difficult to envision them being a significant Deadline buyer, even if their fortunes change over the next two weeks. Mostly, what a run of strong play would do is eliminate the incentive for Eppler to sell off potential free agents such as Tommy Pham, David Robertson and Brooks Raley, who could net useful returns at the Deadline. If the Mets can remain close enough to a Wild Card spot for that to feel realistic, selling would make little sense.

But staying close has proven difficult. Late in the first half, the Mets ripped off their finest winning streak of the season -- six in a row to make all things seem possible again. Then they lost their last two games in San Diego before the All-Star break, dimming those vibes considerably and reopening talk of a potential selloff.

“They’re going to do what they do,” Lindor said of Eppler and his front-office team. “Their job is to put the team together, and our job is to get the wins.”

Although Eppler stopped short of divulging the nature of his Trade Deadline conversations, he acknowledged that rival clubs have been asking about his inventory. Other GMs smell opportunity around the Mets. Should the Mets decide to sell, a market will exist.

For that reason, the next two weeks will be crucial. It’s the time of year when every game, win or loss, carries implications beyond the result.