Just as experts predicted before the season began, the Mets and Padres opened series against each other to close out the first half of the season as two of the hottest teams in baseball.
A sweep at Arizona lifted the Mets to their fifth straight win, tying their season-high. With the final three days of summer arriving before the All-Star break on Friday, the Mets’ winning streak has been tied with Cincinnati’s lead in the majors.
The Padres, after Thursday’s day off, came running the weekend after dumping the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep. While Yo Darvish lined up against Justin Verlander for an intriguing start to a San Diego baseball weekend — Friday’s crowd of 42,712 was the Padres’ 37th sellout of the season — both teams were teetering with let go of momentum.
“They’re just another team on our way,” Pete Alonso, the Mets’ only star this season, said coolly Friday as the series opened.
And the Padres proved it on the first night of a three-game series, as the Mets won, 7-5, in 10 innings, extending their winning streak to six games. It’s now the longest in the major leagues — Cincinnati lost in Milwaukee on Friday — and is the second-longest streak to start the month of July in club history, after starting 10-0 in 1991.
“We need to keep going in a straight line,” Verlander said after Friday’s win. “Some games are like the games of yesterday and some games are like the games of today — some things just go your way.
“Looks like a lot of things didn’t go our way, so it’s good to see.”
The high-risk tension of keeping a season from slipping was evident in Ha-Seong Kim’s reaction when he was thrown out trying to extend a double-to-triple with one out in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. Enraged by his mistake, he kicked a water cooler in the dugout, sprained his right big toe and the Padres listed his condition day in and day out. His absence would be a blow: Kim has been stepping up and is one of San Diego’s best players. With 4 wins above replacement, by the Baseball Reference formula, he ranks second in the National League among center fielders behind Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr., and leads all major leagues in defensive warfare.
In many ways, the start of the series felt as though the teams were picking up where they left off last October when deafening noise, shifting colors and taut tension were the hallmarks of an unforgettable three-game wild card series as the Padres ended the Mets’ season at Citi Field.
The futures of both teams seemed limitless at the time.
Well, maybe not so much.
Instead, these star-studded teams with outrageous salaries and huge expectations remain mirror images of each other, well. But the images are distorted, as if by a fun house mirror.
Despite their recent hot streaks, the Mets and Padres have very little to show for more than half a billion in combined payrolls for the 2023 season. The Mets’ total payroll is estimated to be more than $340 million, according to Spotrac, while the Padres are on the hook with more than 240. Million dollars. For all that money, each team went into the weekend at 41-46, which was 6.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for third place in the National League.
The Mets’ desperation to fix their season was embodied by Francesco Lindor during a sweep of Arizona. He was so ill that he almost had to skip Wednesday’s game, and only bounced back after receiving intravenous fluids due to dehydration. Then he went 5-for-5 with two triples and a homer as the Mets crushed the first-ranked Diamondbacks, 9-0, on Thursday.
Goodbye virus. hello optimism?
“We’ll make something of it,” Lindor promised after the game. “Now the question becomes how deep we will go.”
The Padres’ desperation had been evident the night before. They came back from a 1-5 run through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that manager Bob Melvin called a “miserable trip”. With two wins over the Angels, they had a chance to finish their first series sweep of the season. San Diego’s All-Star closer Josh Hader worked Mondays and Tuesdays and hasn’t performed for three consecutive days since 2021. Sensitive to overuse after his years in Milwaukee, he turned down the chance to do it in San Francisco last month.
But with the Padres leading 5-3 going into the ninth inning on Wednesday, here comes the growler.
“He has a sense of where we are as a team,” Melvin explained afterwards. “So he wanted the ball tonight on save.”
“It was the right situation and I managed to make it happen,” Hader said on Friday. “It’s about making sure you’re healthy. In the long run, if I can’t provide support for the team later because of the injury, there’s no point in that.”
Although the Padres rotation led the NL with quality 39 starts through Thursday, they entered the series with the Mets with the somewhat modest goal of extending their unimpressive winning streak to what would be a season-high of four straight wins.
Piecing together the wins was tough thanks to a . 219 batting average with the Runners in the scoring position, which was the worst in the major leagues going into Friday’s game. A team including players like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tatis Jr. were staring down horrendous clubs like Oakland (29, .229), Kansas City (28, .233) and Detroit (27, .236).
194 batting average in “late/close” situations—baseball reference defines it as “any seventh-inning plate appearance in which the batting team is either in a tie game, one run ahead or has a potential tying run on the deck” — Ranked 29th in the majors as of Thursday.
Not surprisingly, given those numbers, the Padres were 1-36 when trailing after seven innings. Children of the heart, they are not.
Still looking for a group to click, San Diego parted ways with designated hitter Nelson Cruz on Tuesday, to set him up for the job. There was no reason to have him and Matt Carpenter both bench veterans for pinch hits, even if one bat was right and the other left.
This wasn’t the kind of move that would have been expected from a team that cruised all the way to the NL Championship Series last October before losing to Philadelphia. It showed how much the Padres need to change if they are to return to competition.
“We got to go out every day and play like it’s our last,” said Bogaerts.
The Mets and Padres have been such enigmas this summer that each team’s owner conducted what amounts to a State of the Union mini-title within four days of each other.
On June 28 at Citi Field, Stephen A. Cohen has general support for Director Buck Showalter and General Manager Billy Epler. He reiterated that he still plans to hire a president of baseball operations. The game’s worst-kept secret, of course, is that former Brewers president David Stearns will likely take on the role once his contract with Milwaukee expires.
On July 1, in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Padres owner Peter Seidler showed his support for AJ Preller, the team’s president of baseball operations, who is under contract through 2026. Like Cohen, Seidler said he values ”stability.” He added, “I am for excellence. And for me, AJ is for excellence.”
Speaking on Friday, Machado, like Seidler, opted for the long optimistic view.
“It makes everything more special when you’re struggling,” Machado said. “You look back, like, I went through all this, and damn, look how positive things turned out.”
Now, arguably the two most disappointing teams in the game have what could be their last chance to shake off the gloom by extending the small glimpses of sunlight they caught in the early days of July. The August 1 trade deadline looms, and Eppler and Preller must soon decide whether to be buyers or sellers.
After going 7-19 in June, the Mets struck out 17 hits and collected 32 total bases Thursday night. The Mets played a clean, well-rounded series against a sneaky good team. Manager Buck Showalter said Arizona is as athletic as anyone the Mets have faced this year.
During their six-game winning streak Mets compiled a 1.80 ERA Carlos Carrasco threw his best game of the season Thursday Verlander and Max Scherzer were working together in rotation after turnovers including injuries For Scherzer a 10-game suspension for violating a league ban for the use of substances A foreigner in baseball.
Although Verlander swung parts of his San Diego start, giving up two earned runs and walking three runs in six innings pitched, he’s now worked six or more innings in seven of his 12 starts this season.
“Every day is its own entity and we just want to be able to build from strong performances,” said Alonso, who took early batting practice on his first day in San Diego in preparation for Monday’s Home Run derby in Seattle. “You can’t think too much about the future. You just want to focus on winning today.”