Opposite dugout: Injuries have hurt Mets in quest to challenge for NL East lead

Thumbnail image for mets-logo-square.jpgManager: Terry Collins (7th season)

Record: 30-34

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 3B Wilmer Flores (.313), LF Yoenis Céspedes (.307/.391/.653 with 7 HR, 15 RBIs), CF Michael Conforto (.292/.410/.589 with 14 HR, 36 RBIs), RF Jay Bruce (17 HR, 45 RBIs), RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 4.33 ERA), RHP Addison Reed (2.62 ERA, 11 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 2-4

Pitching probables:

June 15: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Robert Gsellman, 7:10 p.m., MASN
June 16: RHP Max Scherzer vs. LHP Steven Matz, 7:10 p.m., MASN
June 17: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Seth Lugo, 4:10 p.m., MASN
June 18: RHP Joe Ross vs. RHP Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Mets:

The Mets were supposed to be battling the Nationals for National League East supremacy, not sparring with the Braves and Marlins to see who would be in second place behind the division leaders from D.C. But as the season chugs toward its midpoint, that’s exactly what the Mets are doing. They’ve been undone by injuries - especially to the rotation that was supposed to match the Nats’ - and general malaise. When one of the biggest news stories surrounding your team in-season is that your lovable baseball-headed mascot flipped off the home fans, that says a lot about exactly where you stand. If they intend to insert themselves back into the NL East race, this weekend’s four-game series would be a good time to start.

The Mets are sixth in the major leagues in home runs (94) and much of their offense rises and falls on the big bat of left fielder Yoenis Céspedes, who has had a lot of trouble staying on the field and in the lineup this season. Hamstring and quadriceps injuries have limited him to 23 games, and he just got back from a stint on the disabled list only to immediately come up with a heel issue that’s dogged him since his days in his native Cuba. When he’s played, Céspedes has been productive, with seven homers and 15 RBIs to go along with a .307/.391/.653 slash line. The Mets are 12-11 when Céspedes plays, but in his absence center fielder Michael Conforto has blossomed as a power hitter with 14 homers and 36 RBIs. Right fielder Jay Bruce continues to lead the Mets in homers (17) and RBIs (45). But when third baseman Wilmer Flores’ .313 average is the best on your team among the regulars, there are problems. Second baseman Neil Walker pulled up lame on Wednesday, and his status for the four-game series is unknown. His nine homers and 33 RBIs have helped pick up some of the slack.

The Mets need to stabilize their starting pitching. Overall, Mets hurlers rank 25th in ERA (4.86) and runs allowed (336) and 28th in opponent on-base percentage (.344), which negated the ninth-highest run support in the majors (4.89). Righty Robert Gsellman gets the start in Thursday’s series opener, and has been reliable of late, posting a 3-0 record and 2.16 ERA over his last four starts. He’s 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in two career starts against the Nats. Lefty Stephen Matz, Friday’s starter, was activated off the DL for a June 10 start against the Braves after a bout with left elbow inflammation. He allowed a run on five hits over seven innings in his season debut. In his lone career outing against the Nats last May 25, Matz spun eight shutout innings of four-hit ball with a walk and seven whiffs. Saturday’s starter is right-hander Seth Lugo, who came back June 11 after being on the DL with right elbow inflammation. Lugo, who flourished as a swingman last season, limited the Braves to a run on six hits and two walks in seven innings. Right-hander Jacob deGrom gets the nod in Sunday’s finale and has worked six or more innings in nine of his 15 starts this season. He’s worked to a 3.35 ERA at home and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in nine career starts against Washington.

Only two NL clubs have a worse bullpen ERA than the Nationals (5.20), and one of them - you guessed it! - is the Mets, who are scuffling along with a 4.77 mark from a bullpen that’s had to shoulder the load from a patchwork rotation. When they do have a lead in the ninth inning, righty Addison Reed has been effective, posting a 2.62 ERA and 11 saves in 13 opportunities. He’s moved into the closer role because Jeurys Familia hit the DL with a blocked artery in his right armpit after he missed the first 15 games of the season while serving a suspension for domestic violence.

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