Beware the teams in September with seemingly nothing left to play for.
The Mets have had a front-row seat to this lecture for the past week, going 3-3 against the moribund Nationals and Pirates, but they haven’t seemed to retain any of the useful information. On Friday night, they lost again to a bad team, falling 6-3 to the Marlins in Miami. After the game, Buck Showalter was asked what the most frustrating part of the loss was.
“The opportunities that we had,” he responded. “We started out a little slow and then got some things going, we just couldn’t cash them in.”
“It’s that time of year,” Francisco Lindor added. “A lot of us kind of hit the wall. We gotta find ways to break through the wall, and do it together. That’s what good teams do. I’m sure we’re going to do it.”
The Marlins grabbed a lead just three batters into the game and never relented, despite the Mets’ best efforts. Garrett Cooper’s two-run blast in the bottom of the first inning gave the Marlins a 72.7% win probability, according to FanGraphs. That number went as low as 52.9% thanks to a Mets’ run-scoring rally in the bottom of the third, but the Marlins tacked on some crucial runs in the middle and late innings to get them back closer to 100%, which was finally achieved when Dylan Floro recorded the game’s final out.
Cooper’s home run came off David Peterson, who the Mets probably did not envision being this big a part of their September plans. Peterson has done an admirable job of doing whatever the Mets have asked of him this season. That has often meant making very sporadic starts, and he told reporters after the game that he learned he would be Friday’s starter on the flight in from Pittsburgh, but this one did not last nearly as long as he or the club hoped.
Peterson was yanked with two outs in the fourth inning. He was responsible for three runs, which the Marlins pieced together on five hits and two walks. Showalter only let Peterson go twice through the Marlins’ order, bringing the hook with him when Peterson walked nine-hole hitter Bryan De La Cruz.
“I wasn’t efficient enough to get deep in that game,” Peterson lamented. “I felt good with the stuff, felt like it was working. I just left a couple of those pitches that they got hits on in the zone instead of burying them. They’re major league hitters, so they took advantage of them.”
Tommy Hunter relieved him and needed just one pitch to make Peterson’s mess disappear, coaxing a lazy fly ball from Jon Berti. The game hung in the balance there, but the Marlins were the only team to find consistently stable footing for the rest of the night.
To quote the singer/songwriter Lorde, the Mets had fifty gleaming chances in a row and flicked them down like dominoes. They could have kept scoring in the third inning when the Marlins were on the ropes, but Jeff McNeil bounced into a 3-6-1 double play. Pete Alonso savagely mauled a baseball in the top of the sixth for his 33rd homer of the year. That made the score 3-2, and Tyler Naquin walked on four pitches in the next plate appearance, but Mark Canha could only foul out to the catcher.
In the seventh, the Mets loaded the bases with one out, prompting Marlins’ manager Don Mattingly to go get lefty Steven Okert. If there was ever a time for the Mets to assert their dominance, to show the denizens of loanDepot Park why they’ve been in first place all year while the Marlins have flopped, this was it. Lindor came to the plate, their magnetic shortstop who will finish in the top five or six of MVP voting. A deep fly ball could have tied the game, a single up the middle could have given the Mets the lead, and a ball in the gap or into the seats almost surely would have put the game away.
Instead, Lindor grounded into the Mets’ second backbreaking double play of the night. This one went around the horn 5-4-3 and seemed to put some wind in Okert’s sails, as he came back to shut the Mets down again in the eighth inning.
There is no world in which losing to the Marlins this late in the season won’t sting. However, a decent slice of this loss can be chalked up to rotten luck. Lindor’s double play ball was hit fairly hard, and Canha’s lineout that ended the eighth inning with a runner on base was scalded at 105.3 miles per hour.
The Mets can find some solace in knowing that they’ll make the playoffs anyway. It’s just a matter of whether that will be as National League East champs or a wild card team. The absolute best way to kiss the division goodbye, though, is to keep losing to teams like Washington, Pittsburgh and Miami during this supposedly easy stretch of the schedule.
“Well, we never looked at it that way,” Showalter said. “I know the statistics, but the reality is, these are the best players in the world.”
There’s never been any panic with this group all season, but right now is a good time for some healthy concern.