15 years later, old nemeses still torment Mets

September 14th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Although the Mets entered Monday’s play closer to the top of the National League Wild Card race than they were to the NL East lead, that mathematical fact came complete with a significant caveat. The Mets may have been three games out of a Wild Card spot, but four teams stood between them and a berth. They were five games out of first place in the division, with only two teams blocking them from that goal.

As such, FanGraphs’ projection system considered the Mets’ five-game divisional deficit easier to overcome than their three-game Wild Card margin.

The truth is, neither seems likely if the Mets continue to play inconsistent baseball, as they did in dropping a 7-0 game to the Cardinals -- one of the four teams they’re chasing in the Wild Card race -- on Monday at Citi Field. New York’s nemeses from Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, continued to haunt them as they lost ground in both races.

“It’s scoreboard-watching time of year right now,” Mets starter Rich Hill said. “I think everybody’s very aware of where we are in the Wild Card and also in the division. But it just comes down to what we can control. We have to take care of our business and win ballgames.”

Wainwright delivered six shutout innings to outpitch Hill in a battle of quadragenarians, while Molina hit a leadoff double in the second to spark St. Louis’ first run-scoring rally, then tacked on an RBI single and scored in the Cardinals’ four-run ninth that put the game out of reach. A night after Francisco Lindor hit three home runs to spark the Mets in front of a raucous crowd, the Mets mustered only one extra-base hit before a much smaller -- and quieter -- group of spectators.

In the eighth inning, the Mets put runners on the corners with no outs, only to strike out three times in succession. But their most prominent busted rally occurred in the first, when Wainwright struck out Jeff McNeil with the bases loaded, on a three-pitch sequence eerily familiar to anyone who watched the ending of the ‘06 NLCS.

“I like nostalgia, and I felt like all the Mets fans in a bases-loaded situation wanted to see me throw two curveballs and a changeup [to McNeil] and get him out,” Wainwright said. “Just gave the people what they wanted.”

Heading into the day, FanGraphs estimated the Mets’ chances of winning the division at 3.8 percent and the Wild Card at 3.2 percent, which put their total postseason odds at 7.0 percent. While those are merely mathematical projections, they offer a decent representation of the uphill climb the Mets face.

In the division, the Mets actually trail the Braves by seven games in the loss column, with the Phillies lurking in second place as another potential team that could spoil their chances. Atlanta’s season run differential is +100; New York’s is -10, suggesting that the order of the standings is no fluke. But the Mets can at least take solace in the fact that they end their schedule with three games in Atlanta. If they can pick up 2 1/2 games in the standings before then, they’ll be in control of their own destiny on the season’s final weekend.

The Wild Card race is far, far murkier. In addition to the Dodgers, Reds and Padres, who have spent the past few weeks jockeying for position atop those standings, the Mets also trail the Cardinals and Phillies. And while only the Dodgers have consistently distinguished themselves among that group, the path to outperform not one, not two, not three, but four separate opponents is quite a bit more complicated.

That’s what made Monday’s series opener against St. Louis so important, as a rare chance for the Mets to attack directly one of the teams they are chasing. They did not pass the test, showcasing many of the same issues -- a listless offense, most prominently -- that have dogged them all season. And so the degree of difficulty ratcheted up another notch with just 17 games to play.

“The focus is here,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’ve got to play our game. And then after our game, it’s done -- we look at where we stand, and then we’ve got to get ready for the next day.”