ATLANTA — The very best part of the Mets is now a symbol of their numbing ineptitude. Every five days, Jacob deGrom thoroughly dominates the opposition. Yet every five days — and pretty much every day in between — the Mets lose.
They did it again on Wednesday with an especially listless performance. The Mets managed two hits against the Atlanta Braves — one in the seventh inning, another with two outs in the ninth — and fell quietly, 2-0, at SunTrust Park. DeGrom has an 0.87 earned run average in his last 10 starts, but the Mets have lost eight times.
“I told him after the game, ‘Dude, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why we’re not producing for you,’” said Todd Frazier, who struck out three times. “Maybe we’re trying too hard when he’s pitching.”
Maybe, but what about the other starters? No matter who pitches, it seems, the Mets cannot hit. They were last over .500 after beating the Braves here on May 30. Since then, they are 1-10 with 15 runs scored — total. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who await the Mets for four games in Phoenix this weekend, scored 13 runs on Tuesday alone.
DeGrom does not say much; he is a low-maintenance, low-profile superstar, a contrast to the wannabe superheroes (Noah Syndergaard, the departed Matt Harvey) who have surrounded him in the Mets’ rotation. On Wednesday, after allowing just one run in seven innings, he made a simple and salient observation.
“We’ve got to score runs to win, and we haven’t been doing that,” deGrom said. “Nobody’s happy with what’s going on.”
The Mets rank last in the majors in total bases. Only one player in Wednesday’s lineup, Brandon Nimmo, left town hitting higher than .237. They have fallen so far, so quickly, that you need not mention their 11-1 start to show how bad things have gotten. At 28-36, the Mets are better than only two National League teams, the Cincinnati Reds and the Miami Marlins.
That says a lot about the Mets’ evaluations. The Reds made almost no effort to improve their last-place roster over the winter, and the Marlins gutted theirs with cost-cutting trades. That is the company the Mets keep, even after signing six free agents, all over 30 years old.
The contrast to the Braves this week could not have been less flattering. After four down years, the Braves are back and ready to reprise their role of perpetual Mets tormentor, a position Atlanta held during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Braves play with the kind of athleticism and verve that are foreign to the creaky Mets — and Atlanta’s roster reflects the benefit of a teardown that the Mets may be unable or unwilling to execute.
In the seventh inning on Wednesday, Ender Inciarte hustled for a double on a routine hit to right, taking advantage of a casual, flat-footed pursuit by Jay Bruce. Inciarte is known for aggressive baserunning, and Bruce said he should have known better.
“That was a terrible play by me and it was unacceptable,” Bruce said. “It shouldn’t happen, that’s just the bottom line. There are like three or four guys in the league that do those type of things, and I’ve been around way too long for that to happen. He took advantage of me just being fairly nonchalant about fielding a grounder.”
This has been a problem for the Mets despite pleas from Mickey Callaway, their new manager. But Bruce and Frazier have also been physically compromised; Bruce will rest a sore back on Thursday against the Diamondbacks, and Frazier recently missed 24 games with a hamstring strain. So it goes with older players, as the Mets feel most acutely with Yoenis Cespedes, the $110 million left fielder who cannot shake persistent leg injuries.
The Mets thought they got a bargain when they slow-played the free-agent market, signing Bruce in January for three years and $39 million and Frazier in February for two years and $17 million. But maybe the industry properly evaluated the relative worth of over-30 sluggers with low contact rates: Bruce is hitting .216, Frazier .227.
Last summer, the Mets traded Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed and Neil Walker, and got seven minor league relievers in return. They also traded for a veteran reliever, A.J. Ramos, who makes more than $9 million. Yet only two of the minor leaguers acquired in those deals have pitched for the Mets this season — Gerson Bautista and Jacob Rhame, who have looked overmatched — and Ramos has a 6.41 E.R.A. and may need shoulder surgery.
So even with an emphasis on bullpen depth last summer, the Mets are basically down to two healthy relievers they trust: Robert Gsellman and Anthony Swarzak, a free-agent signee who missed two months with a strained oblique. Seth Lugo is staying in the rotation, with Syndergaard shut down from throwing because of the strained ligament in his right index finger.
Even at his best, though, Syndergaard is not as efficient as deGrom. Callaway pulled him after seven innings and 86 pitches Wednesday; when every game is tight, with no margin for error, the intensity level is a cause for concern.
“At this point, we need to start monitoring his stressful innings,” Callaway said.
And the Mets need to start monitoring the trade market — for Syndergaard and maybe even deGrom — if a team offers high-impact talent in return.
Look at the Braves. They had one bad season, 2014, and then started a teardown that eventually brought core players like Inciarte, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Dansby Swanson and more. They kept Freddie Freeman — the early leader for N.L. Most Valuable Player — but had to sacrifice young major leaguers like Evan Gattis, Shelby Miller, Andrelton Simmons and others to build this strong foundation.
The Mets are so old and brittle that they have few assets with much appeal to other teams. The most appealing player of all said he does not dwell on trade possibilities.
“It’s kind of pointless to think about,” deGrom said. “None of that’s in my control. I try to just go out there and take the ball every fifth day and give us a chance to win.”
He does that, over and over again, and the Mets give him nothing to show for it. It is miserable to witness, for fans and teammates alike.
“He has been essentially perfect every time he goes out there, and we’ve wasted it,” Bruce said. “That’s frustrating. As frustrating as can be.”