It was Luis Rojas, who happens to be the manager of the Mets, who said it. Not a jaded, cynical sportswriter. Not a wounded, skeptical fan. The man who watches the Mets more closely and with more interest than any man on earth had this remarkably honest assessment of his baseball team Monday:
“You can almost feel,” Rojas said, “like time is running out on you.”
Actually, the “almost” is a little unnecessary. Tuesday is Sept. 1, and there are 25 more games to be played, and all the Mets have to do is start playing .600 baseball when, across the first 35, that number has been .429. Now, this precinct of baseball New York has long fancied itself the home office for miracles. So they have that going for them.
But the Mets boxed around another dissatisfying baseball game Monday, this time a 5-3 loss to a Marlins team that didn’t want to be anywhere near Citi Field, this time on one of the few days out of the last three years when Jacob deGrom had the temerity to merely be very good, as opposed to super-human.
Great pitchers are allowed to have their teams pick them up once in a while. Tom Seaver didn’t throw three-hit shutouts every time out; look it up: he won his share of 7-5 shootouts among his 311 career wins. But the truth around the Mets right now is that they aren’t anywhere near as good as they were projected to be. They need deGrom to be superb every inning he pitches. No let-ups. No slip-ups. It’s a hard way to conduct business.
But now the rest of the team finds itself in a similar bind. Those 25 games? If they want to reach the holy grail, likely to be right at .500, that means 15-10 the rest of the way. That means .600 ball. And that means they will, as a group, be forced to play with exactly the margin of error with which deGrom works every time out of the box.
Which is to say: None.
“We have a good group,” deGrom insisted after taking the loss but seeing his ERA actually drop a few percentage points, to 1.76. “We’ve had some tough losses, today included, but we have been in every game. Everybody comes in here every day like it’s a new day. It’s a short season. Everybody is in it.”
It’s funny: without prior knowledge of the dynamics of a short season, it was presumed a team that’s endured the kind of egregious four-game losing streak the Mets have the past three days would’ve quickly buried itself; what’s actually apparent is that a 5-0 or 9-2 burst can be equally as useful the other way. There is no such thing as being hopelessly out of a race in which so many trophies will be presented.
So in what may well be his last gasp at saving his job, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen busied himself right up until (and beyond) the 4 p.m. trading deadline, and while there was no Clendenon, Hernandez or Cespedes to be had, he did extract Miguel Castro from the Orioles and Todd Frazier and Robinson Chirinos from the Rangers.
“We wanted to give our team some additional help,” Van Wagenen said. “Luis will have some more options now.”
Castro is the intriguing piece, with a live arm (and now we can add Kevin Smith, the organization’s pitcher of the year in 2019, to the live exiled prospect scorecard the next few years that already includes Jared Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Anthony Kay). The others are right-handed hitters which ought to be useful on a team that so shockingly bereft of righty bats and so obviously vulnerable to lefty pitching.
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Chirinos comes with an OPS+ of 5; when you consider that 100 is major league average, that tells you what kind of year he’s had so far. Frazier? Well, he was popular among his teammates last year, and so we will see if the ever-popular “good-clubhouse-guy” injection can be an elixir. But his OPS+ is 92 this year. Who’s he taking at-bats from? It’d better not be last year’s usual suspects, Dom Smith and J.D. Davis. Frazier, of course, is a former Van Wagenen client; if that’s his last rodeo, it’ll be poetic, of nothing else.
These are the ingredients now in Rojas’ possession, as the Mets careen into the strangest stretch run anyone’s ever seen. Can they really play .600 ball the next four weeks when they haven’t looked anywhere close to a .500 team so far? It’s a dubious bet. At least in his final hurrah at the helm, thanks to the circumstances of a strange shortened season, Fred Wilpon will get those meaningful September games he’s always pined for.
Maybe those can serve as a lovely parting gift.