PHILADELPHIA — Buck Showalter, attempting to make the Mets’ nausea-inducing situation less unpleasant, offered three words after his team’s latest, and ugliest, loss of the season.
“Almost won today.”
It’s been a season full of almosts for the 35-42 Mets, a lost club that can’t stop its downward spiral. The Mets, the team with the highest payroll in the history of baseball, are led by a manager who isn’t helping, a general manager who left substantial holes on the roster and an owner who is more willing to be aggressive with his money than make necessary in-season changes.
All of that blame to go around, and it doesn’t even include the players themselves.
The win-starved Mets were on the brink of securing their first series win in over three weeks when the thick, dark gray clouds settled over South Philadelphia. New York held a 6-3 lead when the winds shifted, literally and figuratively, in the bottom of the eighth inning. Working with a thin — but not exactly overtaxed — bullpen, Showalter opted for rookie left-hander Josh Walker to face the heart of the Phillies’ order, which included left-handed hitters Bryce Harper and Bryson Stott.
The only other left-handed arm in the Mets bullpen was Brooks Raley, who has a 2.77 ERA on the season. But Showalter used Raley, one of his three top arms, just two days prior when the Mets trailed the Phillies 5-1 in the seventh inning on Friday. The skipper used Raley again on Saturday, this time while the Mets led, 4-2, against the Phillies. Those two appearances, in which Raley threw a combined 26 pitches, apparently made the southpaw unavailable on Sunday in a high-leverage situation, in what was the most important game of the year.
Walker melted down fast. He loaded the bases with nobody out when Showalter sprang out of the dugout to make a pitching change. In an obvious jam, rather than going to David Robertson, his closer and best reliever who was available, out came right-hander Jeff Brigham. For his part, Brigham induced a would-be double-play ball to Alec Bohm, his first batter, that rookie third baseman Brett Baty couldn’t execute. Baty held onto the ball too long, and everybody was safe as Philly cut its deficit to 6-4.
It seemed like only a matter of time before the Phillies would complete a come-from-behind win, but it was the Mets who got in their own way and allowed them to do it. Following Baty’s error, Brigham gave up the Mets’ lead by allowing a bases-loaded walk, followed by back-to-back bases-loaded hit by pitches. It was a slow form of torture for the Mets, who participated in losing another game in their most horrific way yet. This was a chance to build momentum, a chance for a turning point against a division rival, no less. Instead, the only thing the Mets are displaying is how to collapse with the richest team in baseball.
After the embarrassing loss, Showalter used an exaggerated display of smugness and quippy responses to defend his bullpen management and decision-making. He said he was saving Robertson for the bottom of the ninth inning that never came, which is why he didn’t use him to stop the meltdown in the eighth. Robertson threw just 13 pitches the night before, and had appeared in just two games in the past 11 days. Also going unused was right-hander Adam Ottavino, who has only pitched twice in the past seven days.
Failing to use Robertson, his top reliever, and Ottavino, his second-best arm, after Walker loaded the bases with nobody out was unjustifiable for Showalter. Instead of owning that decision, and showing some accountability that would go far with the Mets’ fed-up fan base, the Mets skipper continued to defend his decisions while asking reporters what he should’ve done. The unsatisfying answers coming from the man who made those decisions was another reminder that, for the Mets, rock bottom has no floor.
“I don’t get it,” Showalter jeered. “What am I missing?”
Everyone else seems to understand.
The Mets need to win right now, right this minute, rather than overthinking and planning for the future.
Phillies score four in the eighth and come back to beat the Mets after Trea Turner is hit with the bases loaded
“We gotta win (a) series right now,” Max Scherzer said Saturday, after six sharp innings in a win against the Phillies. “We gotta start picking up, putting down. This is a big one, especially in division.”
“We know we need to start playing better,” said Daniel Vogelbach. “We know we need to start putting together some wins here.”
Showalter’s bullpen management in the Mets’ 7-6 loss to the Phillies on Sunday was reminiscent of his actions in the 2016 American League wild card game. As the Baltimore Orioles manager, Showalter left All-Star reliever — and Cy Young and MVP contender — Zack Britton in the bullpen, instead using lower-quality arms on the way to losing the game. Then, too, Showalter defended his decision that left Britton in the bullpen. Seven years later, there is no accountability from the same manager in a similar situation, which indicates he is not learning from his mistakes, either.
Something has got to change. The Mets enter their four-game series against the Brewers on Monday at Citi Field a season-high 15 games behind the Atlanta Braves. At this point, their uncertain path to the playoffs is through the wild card. They are eight games back in those wild-card standings, with the Padres, Cubs, Phillies and Brewers all in their way. It’s not only looking bleak, but at this point it might be too late for any impactful changes. To be sure, there were opportunities along the way for unproven GM Billy Eppler, before the Mets got to this joyless juncture, to fix the flaws on the roster.
[MLB Power Rankings: Mets rank 22nd in Rowan Kavner’s latest update]
In March, when Edwin Diaz went down with a likely season-ending injury, Mets owner Steve Cohen said he won’t “overreact” by making a pitching addition or overpaying for somebody. Earlier this month, after the Mets lost their seventh-straight game at the hands of the Pirates, Cohen said he wouldn’t “blow up” by firing personnel to make substantial changes. Cohen then told The Post he’s trying to be thoughtful rather than reactionary.
While Cohen continues thinking, the Mets continue to lose. His off-field inaction has led to stagnant on-field results. The Mets had every intention to extend last year’s short-lived postseason appearance into a deep playoff run. Instead, their season might be over before next month’s All-Star break.
It got late fast for the Mets. However they will respond now is also, almost certainly, too late.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three-and-a-half seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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