The New York Mets are past the danger point and have entered the realm of no return by becoming far too well-versed in the art of losing. Showing off a debilitating kind of versatility, the Mets are able to lose in a variety of ways in a variety of circumstances; of late, there have been very few ways in which the Mets cannot drop a contest. They can lose by a run or two or they can get blown out or they can fall in defeat in a game that they should have won handily or they can do what they did on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which was to combine multiple permutations of defeat by losing a game that they absolutely needed to win in blowout fashion. In order to avoid dropping their third straight game and being swept by the Pirates, the Mets needed to earn a victory on Sunday. For all their efforts, though, all they got for their trouble was a 9-1 loss in a non-competitive game.
With the short memory span that afflicts us all, it is hard to remember a time when Mets starting pitcher Jon Niese was actually good this season. One could comb through his game log in order to identify the times when he was a better pitcher, but although doing so might jog a faint memory, it will be difficult to reconcile what Niese looked like to begin the season and what he looks like now whenever he takes the mound. Over his past three starts, Niese has been a liability whenever he has been entrusted with starting a game, with Sunday’s disappointing performance acting the part of his continued regression to the mean.
Niese started off the contest in promising fashion as he retired three of the first four batters he faced, but that was the only time he was truly in control of the pitcher-hitter match-up. In every other inning he pitched — he lasted 4.7 innings before he was taken out of the game — it was the Pirates hitters who were dominating him. During the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings, the Pirates put 12 men on base, forcing Niese to have to dig deep into his bag of tricks and try to come up with a high number of effective pitches that he would be able to throw with great conviction. Some of the time he was able to escape from the tricky situations he put himself in — in the second and third innings, he stranded all four base runners — but he could not keep up his playing with fire without getting burned.
And when he could no longer overcome his mistakes on a consistent basis, the Pirates pounced and began to wreak havoc to his myriad pitching statistics. In the fourth inning, the Pirates used two hits in a row — a single and a double — to score their first run of the game. They would consolidate their early-game lead by adding three more runs in the fourth inning off of a walk, a two-run home run, another walk, and an RBI single, effectively ending the contest with their three-run advantage.
But the Pirates were not content with just putting themselves in a favorite position to secure a victory. The hitters seemed to be out for blood on Sunday and would not relent until they had established the fact that the Mets pitchers were far too inadequate to limit their production. So in the sixth inning the Pirates tallied three more runs after a three-run home run by Starling Marte against Mets reliever Erik Goeddel and then they ran up the score with two more runs in the seventh inning when Mets reliever Sean Gilmartin was taking his lumps on the mound.
A win was out of the question as soon as the Pirates scored their seventh run of the afternoon, but the final score could at least have been less humiliating for the Mets had their offense actually shown up to play. That did not even come close to happening, though. The Mets failed to capitalize time and time again, earning just one run when they were expected to score at least three more according to their -3.00 RE24. Their inability to get the crucial hit was especially obvious in the second, third, and fifth innings where they put eight men on base and could only knock one of those men in. A couple more timely hits and at least the blowout loss would have been a little easier to stomach.
Unfortunately for the Mets, those kinds of winning and valuable plays arrive far too infrequently to be of much help to the club in most games. The Mets have been sliding back towards their true level of proficiency for some time now, and Sunday’s loss simply continued that descent. Now the question becomes when will their drop end.