The New York Mets haven’t lost more than two games in a row since early August, making another NL East collapse seem unlikely. Their bullpen, though, is now making that scenario much easier to imagine.
After perhaps the most disastrous effort yet from their relief corps, the Mets will try to bounce back on Monday when they open a four-game road series against the Washington Nationals.
The Mets (83-65) have a starting rotation that’s third in the NL with a 3.94 ERA, and a lineup that scores more runs per game (4.97) than everyone in the league but the Chicago Cubs. Yet a shaky bullpen has made a meltdown like last season’s - when New York blew a seven-game division lead with 17 games to play - look like more and more of a possibility.
The Mets don’t have the luxury of such a large lead this season, and their slim edge over Philadelphia could disappear quickly if the relievers keep struggling. The bullpen - missing closer Billy Wagner - endured perhaps its most embarrassing collapse yet on Sunday, when it blew a two-run ninth-inning lead and let Atlanta score five times en route to a 7-4 loss.
“Coming down the stretch at this point, every loss will probably be a reminder of what happened last year,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “What we have to do as a team is get through it. We’ve got to finish.”
The blown save was the 27th for the Mets this season, and the 11th in the ninth inning, tying them for third-most in the majors in both categories.
New York also led Washington 2-0 on Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader, but gave up three in the eighth and lost 3-2.
The Mets scored 23 runs last week in a two-game home sweep of the Nationals (56-93), who have baseball’s worst record. David Wright went 6-for-8 with a homer and four RBIs in that series, and he hasn’t stopped hitting since. The third baseman, who homered three times in the last two games against Atlanta over the weekend, and hitting .632 (12-for-19) in his past five games.
The Mets have taken 10 of 14 so far this season against Washington.
New York’s starters gave up four runs over 22 innings against the Braves, but didn’t fare nearly as well against the Nationals last week, surrendering 12 runs in only 8 1-3 innings.
Pedro Martinez (5-4, 5.44 ERA) didn’t pitch in that series, but his most recent start was also a struggle. The right-hander gave up six runs and seven hits Sept. 7 in a 6-2 loss to the Phillies
“I tried,” Martinez told New York’s official Web site. “That’s all I can honestly say. I tried. I gave my best and my best wasn’t good enough.”
Martinez hasn’t faced the Nationals since 2006.
Washington has lost five straight, a drought that started with the two losses at Shea Stadium last week. The Nationals were only outscored by four runs over the weekend in Florida, but lost all three games.
They can relate to the Mets’ bullpen issues. Washington led 6-1 Sunday heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Nationals gave up seven runs in that frame, ultimately losing 8-7.
“Not pretty,” Washington manager Manny Acta said. “That’s all you can say.”
John Lannan (8-13, 4.09) will start the series opener for the Nationals. Lannan was lit up by the Mets on Tuesday, giving up five runs in three innings. He wasn’t, however, on the hook for the 10-8 loss.
Lannan is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in three starts against New York this season.
The Mets have won 25 of their last 31 games in Washington.