LOS ANGELES -- After their series-opening loss to the Dodgers on Monday, the Mets appeared stunned as they discussed that game in a quiet postgame clubhouse. The National League’s best team had beaten them convincingly, and the Mets, struggling to maintain a .500 record, could muster few answers.
Three ensuing games offered no help in the standings, but the Mets emerged from Thursday’s 2-0 loss -- their third in four games at Dodger Stadium -- feeling perhaps more confident in their overall standing. The Mets lost the final two games of the series by a combined two runs; Wednesday, they suffered a rare Edwin Diaz implosion, and Thursday, they fell victim to Major League ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Given more cracks at the Dodgers, the Mets feel the outcomes can change.
“We lost three out of four,” outfielder J.D. Davis said after the finale. “It sucks. It’s a bitter taste. But the positive thing we can get out of this is that … we were playing with them last night. We were playing with them today. We were confident with them. We were in it all the way.”
For most of the game, the Mets trailed 1-0, due in part to Davis’ gaffe in left. Ranging in to field Chris Taylor’s sinking line drive, Davis misplayed it into a leadoff triple in the first inning. The next batter, Max Muncy, doubled, and the Dodgers subsequently loaded the bases to put Mets starter Jason Vargas on the ropes.
This is what the Dodgers, who entered the night featuring the NL’s top offense, do well. So perplexed were the Mets earlier this week that, at several points, several of them intimated the Dodgers might be getting signaled what pitches are coming. It was tabloid fodder more than anything, yet the conversation existed for a reason. The Mets, quite simply, could not get the Dodgers out.
It took fifth starter and resident soft-tosser Vargas to put an end to the thumping. Vargas escaped that first-inning jam with only one run allowed, then another in the third, then he retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced without allowing another run. It was easily the best start of the season for Vargas, who had not gone deeper than 5 1/3 innings in any of his previous seven. And it came at an opportune time for the Mets, who were playing with an uncommonly taxed bullpen -- Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Robert Gsellman had all logged heavy recent workloads.
“I was aware of who had pitched and when they had pitched in this series,” Vargas said. “That’s definitely something that we’re all cognizant of. But I don’t think it affects the way that I prepare, or get ready to go into a game and think about how deep I’m going to go.”
On another night, Vargas’ effort would have put him in line for a breezy victory. On this night, the Mets mustered just four hits in 7 2/3 innings off Ryu and none off closer Kenley Jansen.
And that, in many ways, was all that mattered. The Dodgers remained the NL’s best team while the Mets flew to Arizona two games under .500.
A deeper look reveals more optimism for the visitors, who headed to LAX believing they can hang with the NL’s best. The Mets feel Vargas is finding his form and know the rest of the rotation is healthy. They believe they’ll become a better defensive team as Davis and Dominic Smith log more reps in left field, and eventually when injured regulars Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and Robinson Cano return.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called the Mets a team “on the come,” that is “starting to play better baseball.”
In Arizona, they’ll have a chance to prove it against a fourth-place D-backs team, before returning home for six games against the NL West’s third- and fifth-place clubs. With theoretically more margin for error, the Mets need their results to fall in line with their optimism.
“I felt like out of the three losses, two of them could have gone our way,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We put ourselves in a really good position. We showed them that we’ve got a pretty good team, and we can go toe to toe with them. We don’t want to go 1-3 in a series, but we did put ourselves in a position to do better than that.”