NEW YORK -- The Mets’ 1-0 loss to the Rockies on Sunday, which saw Max Scherzer suffer defeat despite striking out 11 in a superb start, served to disguise the fact that the Mets still took three of four from the Rockies at Citi Field, still have won 24 of 36 since the All-Star break and still sit in first place in the NL East. That last part hasn’t changed since the early days of April.
A better litmus test awaits them this week, when the Mets welcome the National League-leading Dodgers to Citi Field for three games. It’s easily the most significant remaining challenge on the Mets’ schedule, which includes mostly fourth- and fifth-place teams the rest of the way.
Those softer games will give the Mets plenty of chances to separate themselves from the Braves in the NL East. These Dodgers games? They’ll give the Mets a glimpse of where they stand.
“It matters,” Scherzer said. “They’ve had a great season so far in what they’ve been able to do. You play this game to face the best. Obviously, they’ve been one of the best teams in all of baseball. For them to come into town, you want to beat them. It’s a great opportunity for us, a great challenge for us to go out there and face them.”
By the time the Mets kick off that series on Tuesday, they will have had time to wash away the unpleasantness of Sunday’s loss. Virtually nothing that happened was the fault of Scherzer, who allowed his only run on a Brian Serven sacrifice fly in the seventh after the Rockies loaded the bases on a series of soft hits. With his 110th career double-digit strikeout game, Scherzer matched Roger Clemens for third place on the all-time list. New York’s offense, meanwhile, could do nothing against Germán Márquez, who limited the Mets to a single hit in seven innings.
Finishing 0-for-4 to fall deeper into an 0-for-19 funk, shortstop Francisco Lindor credited Márquez’s abilities, as did manager Buck Showalter, who said: “The pitcher was very legit today.” And certainly the Mets have had their troubles with Márquez in the past, so they didn’t sweat one defeat too badly.
Afterward, several Mets players drove to Long Island for teammate Pete Alonso’s foundation event. Others went to the Bronx for a Bad Bunny concert. The Mets had earned the right to blow off some steam, given a bigger picture that shows them all but guaranteed to make the playoffs. They’re still the favorites to win the NL East. And if the Mets indeed reach those sorts of heights, there’s a decent chance the Dodgers will show up to greet them at some point in October.
Consider the upcoming series a chance to take notes. This week offers the Mets not just another opportunity to measure themselves against Los Angeles -- the two clubs split a four-game set back in June -- but to do a little in-person scouting against the NL’s best team.
“It’ll be a good series for the fans,” Showalter said. “You don’t look forward to it, necessarily. What you look forward to is the competition of facing a really good team.”
The Mets will have two of their three best pitchers lined up for the showcase, with Jacob deGrom scheduled to start on Wednesday and Chris Bassitt on Thursday. That’s the sort of momentum that matters. Lindor noted that the last time the Mets faced the Dodgers, Los Angeles had just been swept by the lowly Pirates. The Dodgers turned around to take their first two games against the Mets.
The existence of such randomness in baseball is well-known, as Scherzer experienced Sunday in a tough-luck loss. It doesn’t take away from the importance of greater challenges and greater themes.
“We’ve been going at it the same all year,” Lindor said. “So yeah, I’m looking forward to playing [the Dodgers]. It’s going to be good baseball for sure.”