2018-04-17 23:35:02
Nationals Hand Mets a Second Straight Loss. Time to Panic?

23:35, April 17 143 0

Despite the Mets carrying the best record in the National League and racing to one of their fastest starts in franchise history, a near-panic seemed to erupt among many of their fans following Monday’s loss to the Washington Nationals.

Granted, it was a shocking and dispiriting loss to a division rival. And even though it was just their third loss of the season, the outcry from fans on the radio and the internet did not surprise Mets Manager Mickey Callaway. A day later he showed his public-relations savvy, chalking up the early-season dismay to the passion of the fans.

“If we have to deal with that to be in the best place in the world, we will,” he said. “It makes it fun, actually.”

It might be slightly less fun after a second consecutive defeat, a 5-2 loss to the Nationals on a frigid Tuesday night at Citi Field.

After starting the season 11-1, the Mets have lost two games in a row and three of their last four, results which are destined to draw even more pessimism from the fan base.

The reality is that the Mets are 12-4 and still sitting atop the National League East — with 146 games to play.

If the team took any positives from Tuesday, they might point to chasing Washington’s starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, in the sixth inning. Gonzalez has been nearly perfect at Citi Field, with a 10-1 record and a 1.69 E.R.A. in 15 starts.

He only allowed two runs in five and one-third innings, but that was enough to win. Zack Wheeler (1-1) made his second start for the Mets and kept them in the game, surrendering three runs and seven hits in six innings before being replaced by a pinch-hitter.

After the Nationals extended their lead to 4-2 in the top of the seventh, the Mets had a tantalizing chance to get even, or at least cut into that lead, in the bottom half of the inning. After one-out singles by Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores, the Mets had runners at first and third. Now, perhaps, it was their chance for a dramatic comeback.

But Ryan Madson, the veteran relief pitcher, struck out Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce to escape the danger. The Nationals added another run in the top of the eighth to ease the pressure on their bullpen, which did its job in holding the Mets to a lone single over the last two innings.

Part of the reason some Mets fans reacted so adversely to Monday’s loss was the state of the Nationals’ injury-depleted roster: Daniel Murphy (knee), Adam Eaton (ankle) and Anthony Rendon (toe) were out of action.

“We’ll get there,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said before the game. “These guys, I know they’re progressing. Hopefully, our team will be stocked and ready to go real soon.”

Those are not encouraging words for the Mets. They had enough trouble dealing with Bryce Harper, who had homered in three straight games against the Mets. He went hitless on Tuesday, but knocked in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the third inning, and he walked twice.

The Nationals added two more runs in the fourth inning as Wheeler walked Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo floated a ball into right field, just over the head of Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, scoring Moises Sierra. Taylor went to third and scored on a single to left by Pedro Severino.

The Nats still had runners at first and second with nobody out, but Gonzalez failed to get down a bunt, and Wheeler got Turner to fly out to left. Next, Wheeler faced Howie Kendrick with Harper on deck. But Wheeler escaped, as Kendrick bounced a ball weakly toward third and Frazier made the unassisted out to avoid the potentially disastrous situation of Harper coming up with the bases loaded.

It was not nearly enough on a night when Gonzalez was typically strong at Citi Field. Even when the Mets had runners on base, Gonzalez often executed the right pitches at critical times to get out of trouble. He stranded a runner at second base in the first inning, and in the third inning the Mets had runners at first and second with one out and first and third with two outs, and could not score.

Their failure to break through then, and again in the seventh against Madson, meant the Mets lost for the second straight day, providing pessimistic fans more opportunity to worry.