The New York Mets are in a three-way fight for the NL East crown, but there's no denying they are in some serious trouble, as they now sit 3.5 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
The Mets have fallen into a deep funk at one of the worst possible times, as they capped off an ugly sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday night. Carlos Carrasco, making his fourth start of the season after a torn right hamstring, was rocked for six runs in two innings. Inexplicably, he also batted in the bottom of the second inning with two men on and one out… and was then lifted in the top of the third.
In the shadows of that weekend sweep – and Monday's 7-5 loss against the San Francisco Giants in a three-game series opener – lurks more bad news around Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who won't throw a baseball for at least two more weeks after an MRI showed there wasn't enough improvement in his elbow to move forward. DeGrom, 33, has been hampered by arm and elbow troubles all season long, but that hasn't affected his performance on the mound, as he was enjoying another Cy Young-caliber season, headlined by a microscopic 1.08 ERA.
Without deGrom, the Mets still have a solid rotation led by Marcus Stroman (2.79 ERA) and the revelation that is Taijuan Walker (3.75 ERA), but there's just no replacing a pitcher of that caliber. Losing deGrom for the rest of the season, which is becoming more of a possibility with each passing day, would be a huge blow to New York's chances.
The offense is struggling, too. In their 4-11 stretch to start August, the Mets are scoring an average of 3.5 runs a game, which just isn't going to get it done against the better teams in baseball. Pete Alonso is hitting just .193 this month. Jeff McNeil, a .300 hitter his entire career so far, has struggled to a .255 average in 2021. Dominic Smith, who is often hitting cleanup, is hitting .251 with just eleven home runs on the year. The offense is facing some deep systemic issues and it doesn't seem apparent that the team will snap out of it as the season marches toward its final month.
There could be some help on the way, as Francisco Lindor is nearing a return after an oblique injury that has kept him sidelined since mid-July. Lindor was having a rough start to his Mets career, hitting just .228 with 11 home runs in 311 at-bats, but New York will absolutely take his bat in the lineup.
Javier Baez, who the Mets acquired from the Cubs at the deadline, should be expected back around the same time as Lindor. Baez has recently been battling back spasms.
On top of these struggles everywhere you look, the schedule just doesn't let up for the Mets. New York is in the middle of a brutal thirteen-game stretch where they play either the wild-card-leading Dodgers or the Giants – you know, the best team in all of baseball. This is about as unwelcome a stretch for a spiraling team as you can imagine.
Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies have not only closed the gap in the NL East, they've completely bypassed the Mets and are starting to put a little distance between them. The Braves in particular are on a heater; left for dead about a month ago, Atlanta is 11-3 in August thanks to fantastic pitching and some shrewd trade deadline moves. Joc Pederson has been an especially good pickup from the Cubs; he's hitting .283/.371/.457 with three home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs since coming over from Chicago on July 15.
The Phillies sit 1.5 games behind the Braves, though one would have to like their chances to stay in the divisional race more than the Mets right now. With Zack Wheeler and Kyle Gibson anchoring the rotation and sudden MVP candidate Bryce Harper playing out of his mind since the All-Star break, Philadelphia should continue to give Atlanta a run for its money.
The saving grace for the Mets is that they'll control their own destiny to some extent. After their brutal stretch against the Dodgers and Giants, the Mets still have six total games left against the Phillies and Braves. Most importantly, New York ends the season with a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta.
The entire NL East division could come down to that final series of the year, but the only question is whether or not the New York Mets will even still be in it at that point.