WASHINGTON — The Mets have spent much of the last two months making everybody else look like Max Scherzer. So, when they faced the real thing on Wednesday night, it only followed that their misery would continue.
It has become a matter of natural order, in the same way that the sun rises in the east, and that water is wet. The Mets can’t hit. And unless they find a way to squeeze some life out of their scuffling bats, a season of great promise will have fizzled away, more baggage for a fan base that whiles away the bad days by counting its scars.
“We’re just not even giving ourselves chances,” manager Terry Collins said after a 4-2 loss that gave the Nationals a three-game sweep.
Nothing in baseball is inevitable, though the conclusion of this horrid seven-game road trip came to a close. The Mets looked helpless, Scherzer pitched like an expensive ace, and Daniel Murphy slammed a pair of homers while giving his former team a glimpse of what they lost this winter.
James Loney hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning, though it was nothing more than a cosmetic touch-up in an otherwise brutal series for the Mets.
Until that swing, they hadn’t scored since the third inning Monday, a span of 23 consecutive innings. It was an act of remarkable futility made possible only by group incompetence.
Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets last season, dominated again, striking out 10 in 7 1/3 shutout innings. It was his seventh double-digit strikeout game of the season.
Murphy knocked in three runs and equaled his career high with 14 homers, which he hit last season while helping the Mets to the pennant. In their scouting reports, the Mets warned of the perils of making mistakes to Murphy on the inner portion of the plate. Twice, their pitchers paid for their failure to execute.
“He’s doing the damage against everybody,” Collins said of Murphy, who is hitting .429 with four homers and 11 RBIs against the team that drafted him, developed him, and ultimately dumped him.
The Mets (40-37) have dropped six games behind the Nationals in the NL East and now must host the world-beating Cubs in a four-game set starting on Thursday.
Logan Verrett, the Mets’ starter, had been forced into action only by the bone spur in Steven Matz’s left elbow. He will instead pitch in Thursday’s series opener against the Cubs, leaving Verrett as the last line of defense between the Mets and a sweep.
Verrett held the Nationals to two runs in five innings, yeoman’s work for a pitcher who began the night with a 5.79 ERA in four previous spot starts this season.
“I kept us in the game, gave us a chance to come back and win it,” he said.
Of course, Verrett’s effort was made irrelevant by Scherzer’s. With a fastball that rippled at 97 mph and knee-buckling offspeed pitches, Scherzer allowed only two hits, retiring 18 in a row at one point.
The very nature of baseball’s marathon means that fortunes still can turn. For their warts — and seemingly all of them have been on display lately — the Mets began the day with possession of the second wild-card spot in the National League..
Even with injuries, they are a deeper and more accomplished team than they were a year ago, when they slogged through another excruciating first half.
“I don’t think we’ve played half our games yet this year,” said Curtis Granderson, whose pinch-hit single extended what became a failed rally in the eighth. “There’s still a lot of things left that hopefully can and will happen.”
Bur like encouraging words, perspective provides little relief for an offense that has faltered more than any other with runners in scoring position. They trail all of the major leagues in such situations, hitting a paltry .205
“If they keep adding pressure to themselves,” Collins said, “they’re going to continue to struggle.”