MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets

Game recap April 16: The Mets never change

The New York Mets have been spectacular in 2018. Entering Monday night, the Amazins’ sat at 12-2, healthily atop the National League East. After completing a sweep against the Nationals only eight days ago, the Mets had the perfect opportunity to deal an early season death blow to their hated rivals.

The game began with such promise. Jacob deGrom dazzled through the first seven innings. The offense bounced back immediately after falling down 1-0, rattling off six runs and taking a five-run lead on Washington. But everything unraveled in the eighth and before you knew it, the Mets’ lead had dissipated and they found themselves two runs in the hole. Washington snatched Monday’s contest from the jaws of defeat, triumphing over the Mets by a score of 8-6.

Who needs a bat anyway?

The Nats drew first blood in the first inning after Bryce Harper launched his major league-leading eighth home run of the season. No surprise to see Harper leave the yard here, but this was no ordinary dinger. Harper’s bat shattered above his hands as the top half of the bat ricocheted off of the protective netting behind home plate. Generally speaking, when you hear the words broken bat, you imagine a bloop hit or slow roller. Somehow, Harper still managed to muscle deGrom’s 95 mph fastball 406 feet. Personally, I have never seen anything like this in my life. You can only wonder how far this ball would have traveled if the bat stayed intact.

deGrom dominated…kind of

After surrendering that one blemish to Harper in the first, deGrom settled in and posted what should have been his signature start of 2018 to date. The right-hander tied the Nationals’ lineup in knots, striking out a career-high tying 13 batters. Last night marked the 22nd double-digit strikeout game of deGrom’s career and paired up with Noah Syndergaard as the third Mets duo to toss 11+ strikeouts in back-to-back games. deGrom and Thor join Ray Sadecki and Nolan Ryan who pulled off the feat in a doubleheader on September 9, 1970, as well as Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver who did so on June 7-8, 1969. deGrom also recorded an impressive opposite-field single and laid down a perfect safety squeeze bunt that scored a run. We were all tasting a potential complete game for deGrom and when he became the first Mets starter to throw a pitch in the eighth inning, it seemed like a legitimate possibility. But deGrom was only able to retire one batter in the eighth and allowed two baserunners, forcing Mickey Callaway to turn things over to the bullpen.

The immaculate bullpen is no longer immaculate

You have an immaculate record. Some guys don’t trust an immaculate record. I do. I have an immaculate record.

Entering last night, the Mets’ bullpen has been nothing short of immaculate. With a 1.51 ERA, the unit possessed the lowest mark in the majors. Alec Baldwin may trust someone with an immaculate record, but clearly, he has never watched the Mets play baseball.

The pen has been a major point of contention as far back as I can remember, but this season truly felt different. Last night represented the first chink in the armor. The group was absolutely awful.

Seth Lugo entered first, attempting to escape the jam that deGrom created for himself. He walked Howie Kendrick and Callaway followed with Jerry Blevins to face Bryce Harper. Harper beat Blevins and scored two, both charged to deGrom. Callaway returned to the mound again to bring in AJ Ramos to face Ryan Zimmerman. Ramos was able to get Zimmerman looking on a questionable strike call, but surrendered a single to Pedro Severino to load the bases. Ramos was pulled after walking former Met Matt Reynolds on four pitches, bringing the score to 6-4.

So Jeurys Familia entered the game and you would think that the lights-out closer would successfully shut the door. Wrong. Familia surrendered a two-run single to Wilmer Difo, beaned Moises Sierra and walked Michael Taylor to bring home another run. By the time the eighth ended, the Nats lead 7-6. Hansel Robles toed the rubber for the ninth and only made matters worse by giving up a blast to Howie Kendrick to bring it to 8-6. It was absolutely stunning to watch an implosion on this scale.

Asdrubal the rally killer

Asdrubal Cabrera has been arguably the most outstanding hitter on this ball club in 2018. He added an astounding four more hits tonight, including a two-run home run that he absolutely crushed. Down by two with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, he laced a two run double and brought Michael Conforto to the plate as the tying run. After Ryan Madson pitch bounced roughly 10 feet away from Severino, Cabrera tried to take third, but was gunned out to make the second out of the inning. It was a bonehead move, considering that Cabrera’s run didn’t even count there. Conforto would fly out directly afterwards, shutting the door on any hope for a ninth inning rally.

Other offensive notes

Todd Frazier stayed hot, recording an RBI single in the first and an RBI double in the third. Even though he didn’t pick up anymore tonight, Frazier has walked more than he has struck out in 2018. His increased walk rate has drastically improved his value and made him an integral piece of this offense.

Juan Lagares cracked a single and ran like lightning on the base paths tonight, stealing second and third off of Matt Wieters. The steals set up the successful safety squeeze in the sixth.

With Yoenis Cespedes (day off) and Jay Bruce (plantar fasciitis) relegated to pinch-hitting duties, Brandon Nimmo received the start in left. He made the most of it by launching a warning track triple in the seventh and would score on Cabrera’s home run.

Both sides of the coin

Mickey Callaway has been fantastic this season, seemingly initiating a culture change almost immediately. Pulling off that safety squeeze was just another example of pushing all of the right buttons, but it is pretty evident that the bullpen mishaps tonight were a complication of over-managing the game. With the way the relief staff has been gelling, using Lugo and Blevins for only one batter each probably wasn’t the right option. But hey, anybody can be a Monday morning quarterback.

The Mets are back at it tonight against the Nationals in Flushing. Zack Wheeler faces Gio Gonzalez at 7:10 p.m.

Photo credit: Noah K. Murray – USA Today Sports

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