NEW YORK -- As each inning of the Mets’ 6-3 loss to the Braves ticked away on Thursday, the team drew ever closer to Friday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. Twenty-eight hours to go, then 27, and so on and so forth for a team growing increasingly anxious to find improvements.
Throughout the defeat, the Mets struggled in two areas that they could conceivably upgrade before Friday afternoon: their rotation and their lineup. Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker continued his post-All-Star break struggles in allowing five runs over five innings, while the offense -- outside of Pete Alonso, who bashed a 453-foot homer to the upper deck at Citi Field -- never seriously threatened to take the lead.
By the time the Mets reconvene at Citi Field on Friday, the Deadline will have come and gone. The team remains linked to many of the biggest names reportedly available, including Cubs hitters Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, as well as nearly every pitcher on the market. And while the Mets aren’t committed to making a splashy trade, like the Padres did in reportedly closing in on a deal to acquire Max Scherzer on Thursday, it remains a possibility.
“We’ll see what happens,” Walker said. “We’ve got a good team here. We’ve had guys come in and step up when we needed them to. If we do something, cool. If not, I think we have enough pieces here, and we’re getting guys back, that I think we’ll be fine.”
Earlier this week, general manager Zack Scott ruled out nothing when asked about the Mets’ Deadline possibilities, though he and other team officials have been consistent in calling pitching their top priority. Thursday provided the latest reason why. Walker, who earned his first All-Star selection after spending most of the first half ranked in the top 10 in the National League in ERA, caved for five runs -- including Austin Riley’s fourth homer of the series -- over five innings.
After producing a 1.84 ERA in April and May, Walker has since posted a 5.36 mark.
“The long ball’s been killing me,” he said.
That’s not to suggest that Walker’s rotation spot is in jeopardy; regardless of what the Mets do before the Deadline, he will remain a key part of things in Flushing. His struggles simply underscore the need for insurance, with Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson, Noah Syndergaard and Joey Lucchesi all on the injured list. And while that group is slowly growing healthier -- Carrasco will return on Friday, with deGrom perhaps to follow in early August -- the Mets have lost much of the depth they built over the winter. Team officials hope to fortify the roster against further physical issues for deGrom, or a step back from rookie Tylor Megill, or any other number of problems that might befall the rotation.
If nothing else, adding another starting pitcher would give the Mets enough flexibility to shift Megill, Syndergaard or Rich Hill to the bullpen down the stretch, thereby strengthening that unit as well.
Then there is the matter of the offense, which remains ranked 29th in the Majors in runs per game, despite a slight uptick coming out of the break. Outside of Alonso’s blast (the third in regular-season history to land in Citi Field’s top seating tier), the Mets could not apply consistent pressure to Braves starter Drew Smyly or Atlanta’s bullpen. Even though a blockbuster deal for someone such as Bryant, Báez or Trevor Story remains an unlikely solution, Steven Cohen has shown a propensity throughout his first year as Mets owner to make big splashes.
The Trade Deadline will provide him another opportunity, at a time when the Mets could certainly use a boost.
“We’re very, very confident in the talent that we’ve had throughout the season,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’re also confident in what our front office does. So whatever decision is made, whatever is done, we trust it.”
To date, the Mets have remained in first place in the NL East for more than 11 consecutive weeks in large part because their division has not been as strong as expected. Over their last 45 games, the Mets are 22-23 -- a stretch that has seen them lose no ground whatsoever. When they walked off the field on Thursday, the Mets held the same four-game lead that they did before that 45-game sequence.
With the Nationals selling and the Phillies floundering, consider that an opportunity for the Mets to put more space between themselves and their rivals in the coming weeks.
“It kind of boils down to what we can control between the lines,” Alonso said. “Getting an arm or getting a bat is great, but I think the No. 1 thing is for everyone to be healthy. If everyone gets back and healthy, and we’re firing on all cylinders, I think that’s going to be just as big or bigger than getting a trade.”