Mets stifled by rookie early, can't rally late

August 8th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Scouting is different in 2020. More advanced than ever in 2020. Even though the Mets had never seen Humberto Mejía -- even though no big league team had seen Mejía, whose previous experience topped out at Class A Advanced -- the Mets had video and data available to take a look at him. Same for the parade of Marlins relievers who pitched in Friday’s game, and for any hitters who might have been unfamiliar to the Mets.

On this night, it didn’t matter. Unable to solve Mejía, the Mets didn’t fare much better throughout the rest of their 4-3 loss to the Marlins at soggy Citi Field, falling deeper into last place in the National League East.

At 5-9, the Mets are now five games back of the Marlins, whose surprising 7-1 record is best in the Majors. Instead of the Mets taking care of business against the Marlins, the opposite took place at Citi.

“If you’ve been around this game for a while now, you can see some crazy stuff,” Mets starter Michael Wacha said. “They’re still big league ballplayers. They’re going out there and they’re playing. Nobody’s really giving them a chance, and so I’m sure they’ve got that posted up on their bulletin boards, playing with a little chip on their shoulders. You never know what can happen. Especially in this game, you never know what can happen.”

The only Met to touch Mejía was Dominic Smith, who homered in the second inning to rack up his team-leading eighth RBI. By that point, however, the Mets were already trailing due to Francisco Cervelli’s three-run homer off Wacha. Although Wacha struck out the side in the first and ended his night with three scoreless innings, Miami’s four-run attack in the second handed him a loss.

The Mets did rally for two runs in the eighth, but they could not push across the tying run despite having the bases loaded with one out.

“It happens,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “It was the first time you see the kid after seeing him on video. We did have information on him, but the more information we got as the game went along -- it’s something that we’re starting to make some adjustments and guys were starting to lay off the high fastball, and then he was out of the game.”

Of greater concern to the Mets than anything that happened during Friday’s loss was the fact that their NL East hole grew increasingly bigger. Even with an expanded playoff system in place, the Mets -- now tied for the second-worst record in the NL -- have reduced their margin for error over the final seven weeks of the season.

When the Mets last won the NL East in 2015, they did so by beating up on the bottom-feeders of the league, going a combined 28-5 against the last-place Phillies, Reds and Rockies. This year, the Marlins were supposed to be one of those punching bags. Entering the season as heavy underdogs to finish anywhere other than last in the division, the Marlins then lost more than half of their roster when a coronavirus outbreak sent 17 players to the injured list. Miami was forced to call up players such as Mejía, a talented young pitcher who almost certainly would not have been on the mound on Friday had unorthodox circumstances not dictated it.

Given Mejía’s greenness, not to mention a strict pitch count that limited him to 2 1/3 innings, the Mets seemed primed for a Friday night victory. They simply had to execute.

They didn’t.

“We’re in the big leagues -- everybody that comes up to the plate or touches a mound or touches a field is a great player,” said Mets reliever Chasen Shreve, who struck out five over 2 1/3 hitless innings of relief. “Whether they made the Opening Day roster or not, they’re all great players, so you’ve just got to go in and attack them like they are.”

Rojas chalked the loss up to continued struggles with men in scoring position, noting that the Mets remain “a little passive in those situations” -- not just against Miami, but against everybody. It’s something they’ll have to fix if they ever want the current equation -- first-place Marlins, last-place Mets -- to flip.

“I don’t think we’ll ever really hit the panic button,” Smith said. “We know that we’re playing good baseball. … We’re continuously putting ourselves in good situations to win. We’re not just getting overmatched at the plate. We’re not just getting blown out. So that’s one of the positives, but we’ve got to push those runs in.”