Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
The Mets took the field under darkening clouds Tuesday. This was literal—a rainstorm suspended the game in the second inning—but given that this is not a franchise known for its subtlety, it was something else, too.
The team had lost nine of its last 11. It had tumbled from first place to a precarious third. An ungodly portion of the roster was hurt, and while the club had made a modest splash at the trade deadline, it had not made the sort of practical, depth-oriented moves that would have been especially useful here. The offense was lackluster. General manager Zack Scott had addressed the media before the game and was unable to pull off any kind of convincing spin: “Unacceptably bad” was how he described this recent stretch. Which is all to say that the dark clouds overhead did not feel like a sign so much as they felt like a belaboring of the point. We get it already.
There’s room to debate the exact metaphor here. Maybe you see the Mets’ current moment as their equivalent of a game-ending, misery-making, starting-pitcher-burning downpour. Maybe you see it as something they can play through—pull the tarp, wait it out and snap right back. Maybe you see the stadium washing away in apocalyptic floods and have decided that you would frankly welcome the development. In any case: The clouds right now are dark.
Which is particularly striking when you consider where the team was just a few weeks ago. The Mets had held a solid grip on first place in the NL East since early May; it seemed, given the state of the division, that it was clearly theirs to lose. Carlos Carrasco and, more importantly, Jacob deGrom were supposed to be returning from the injuries that had kept them out of the rotation. There was plenty of hope around the upcoming trade deadline—the first one under new owner Steve Cohen, which seemed like a perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate that he was interested not just in winning the division, but in making a serious playoff run.
And, well, you know how it went from there. The decision not to acquire a starter at the trade deadline was confusing at first and totally baffling after it was paired with the announcement that deGrom had experienced a setback that would keep him on the IL. (He is now expected back in September.) The fact that both the Phillies and Braves made deals to address their weaknesses initially looked concerning and now looks potentially damning. Injuries have continued to pile up. The offense has frozen. It’s not recommended that anyone look directly at the graph of their playoff odds, but if you can manage a sidelong glance, it is a marvel:
Some of this is simple bad luck—an injury crunch, a poorly timed cold streak, bad bounces, tough calls and flubbed chances. But the Mets left themselves more exposed to all of this than they had to be. They didn’t pursue the depth that could have made this moment feel less shaky. They have done little to help their situation, and in some small, maddening ways, they have even made it worse.
Look at the myriad soft-tissue injuries. Some of that is out of a team’s control—you can assemble the best training staff in the game, have players who approach it with the utmost seriousness and you still might end up with these injuries, by no real fault of anyone involved. But the Mets’ record on this has been almost remarkable. As of right now: Luis Guillorme is on the 10-day IL with a hamstring strain; David Peterson is out after foot surgery, but that injury happened while he was already sidelined with an oblique issue; Robert Stock is on the 60-day IL with a hamstring injury; Robert Gsellmann has been out for weeks with a lat problem. And that’s just the players who are currently dealing with a soft-tissue injury. Several others missed time previously.
Unsurprisingly, Scott was asked about this at his media availability on Tuesday. “There’s nothing that stood out to me as some egregious mistake in our process, in our treatment, in our training that led to it,” he said. “I think there’s specific examples where it’s clear how something could have been handled differently. Most of the time, to be honest with you, it’s compliance issues.”
All of this might be true. But for this team, at this moment, it’s a deeply unsatisfying way to answer the question.
If there have been multiple compliance issues leading to injuries—from career athletes naturally incentivized to keep themselves healthy—it might be worth sharing how the team expects players to comply. Is the front office reconsidering any of that? If it believes in its process, does it believe that this is the most effective way to put it in front of the roster? And have these issues been addressed with the players in question? If they have—might it be worth framing this subject in a way that does not so publicly throw them under the bus?
That’s not to say that Scott should have absolved the players of responsibility here. It’s just that he could have taken some of his own, too.
It was a small thing—one answer in a press conference full of them—but it seemed telling. The worst way to spend a rainstorm is sniping over who should have brought the umbrella. And if the sky hasn’t opened up yet over the Mets, it could soon, and there isn’t much time left to figure out how to stay dry.
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