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Sometimes You See It Coming

For whatever reason, that game had loss written all over it the moment Jonathan Schoop [1] hit Noah Syndergaard [2]‘s worst pitch of the night over the fence. The Mets kept whacking away at the Orioles, but Syndergaard was gone (nearly 100 pitches on a soppingly hot night) and the bullpen was doing bullpen things, and you knew there were teeth out there in the darkness somewhere [3].

I didn’t think the fatal blow would be a 365-foot homer tucked neatly over the left-field fence by a guy who’d never hit one in the big leagues before, but that’s for the coroner to note. The Mets were beaten, and a couple of hours later so were the Rockies. You can’t complain too vociferously when losing four of five only means a game off your lead, but ouch — the Nationals in our rearview mirror are now 20% closer than they were last time we checked.

Syndergaard’s evening was an interesting one. If the Mets were scuffling along at .500 and fighting the Braves for scraps, I suspect I’d wax lyrical about bumps in the road and lessons learned by young pitchers, like I did last time [4] but more somberly. Syndergaard struggled through the first, survived it somehow, then seemed to find some extra ticks and movement on the fastball and locate the release point on the curve. Then he was untouchable for a long stretch, with Schoop in particular looking pitiably helpless against the curve.

“Noah could throw that pitch all night,” I told my wife, “and that guy would never hit it.”

Which was true. But by “that pitch” I meant the breaking ball that darted sideways across the plate, away from a right-handed hitter, and dove out of the strike zone. Not that same breaking ball fired from the wrong release point and with no break, so it hung like an autumn moon on Schoop’s hands for a long terrible moment before becoming a souvenir.

Ouch, like I said above.

An August pennant race means there are no moral victories, no sage commentary about the future of young pitchers. There’s just a loss coupled with an enemy win, and however much profanity you need to add to that.

But let’s talk about what’s probably really worrying you. How about the fact that our bullpen has given up 13 earned runs in the last 18 1/3 innings? That’s … not good.

Here’s the key question: Is that the sign of a decent bullpen having a bad stretch, or a bad one showing its true face? In other words, is the glass half-empty or GODDAMNIT THERE’S A CRACK IN IT AND IT’S HALF-EMPTY BECAUSE THE WATER’S RUNNING OUT AND WHAT’S THE USE IF YOU NEED ME I’LL BE SULKING IN THE GARAGE. <DOOR SLAMS>

Relief pitchers, just like lineups, have stretches where all the individual pitchers can do no wrong and stretches when they can’t get out of their own way. The Mets are possibly just dealing with one of the latter periods. In which case I feel at least cautiously optimistic that they’ll come out of it — that we’ll get better things from Hansel Robles [5], and less scary shakiness from Jeurys Familia [6], and continued decency from Tyler Clippard [7], plus maybe Sean Gilmartin [8] getting more responsibility and doing OK with it, and some help from new faces such as Logan Verrett [9] and Erik Goeddel [10]. (If you want to be mad at someone, once again, be mad at Jenrry Mejia [11], whose astonishing idiocy kicked over a whole line of dominoes.)

The numbers so far this year would back up that optimism — the Mets’ pen’s been pretty solid.

But on the other hand, maybe the Mets’ pen isn’t that good, and those numbers indicate we’ve seen the best of it, and the next five weeks will be a painful regression to the mean. I’ve seen that scenario too — it was called 2008, and it sucked.

Positivity, right? We’re still playing with house money, and there’s a soft schedule ahead, and an off-day tomorrow, which the Mets could use. Except, well, I just caught myself thinking that the Mets could sure use Monday’s off-day.

Buckle up. Whatever happens, it’ll make sense when it’s done.