Just as experts predicted before the season started, the Mets and Padres opened a series against each other to close out the first half of the season as the two hottest teams in baseball.
A sweep of Arizona lifted the Mets to their fifth straight win, tying their season high. When the summer finale came Friday, three days before the All-Star break, the Mets’ winning streak was tied with a victory over Cincinnati, the best in the majors.
Following Thursday’s off, the Padres came off a fast weekend after sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep. As Yu Darvish lined up against Justin Verlander for a weekend of baseball in San Diego — Friday’s crowd of 42,712 was the Padres’ 37th sellout of the season — both teams rolled with abandon and momentum.
“They’re just another team in our way,” Pete Alonso, the Mets’ only All-Star this season, said coolly Friday as the series began.
The Padres extended their hitting streak to six games with a 7-5 win over the Mets in 10 innings on the first night of the three-game series. It’s now the longest in the majors — Cincinnati lost at Milwaukee on Friday — and is the second-longest streak to begin July in club history, following a 10-0 start in 1991.
“We’ve got to go on a streak,” Verlander said after Friday’s win. “Some games are like yesterday, some games are like today – some things go your way.
“It looks like a lot of things aren’t going our way, so that’s good to see.”
The high-stakes tension was evident in Ha-Seong Kim’s reaction to trying to stretch a double into a triple with one out in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. Enraged at his mistake, he kicked a water cooler in the dugout, injuring his right big toe, and his condition was listed as day-to-day. His absence will be a blow: Kim has been batting leadoff and is one of San Diego’s best players. With 4 hits, he ranks second in the National League behind Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. in hits, according to Baseball Reference’s formula, and he leads all major leaguers in defensive batting.
In many ways, the series opener felt like the teams were picking up where they left off last October, when deafening noise, kaleidoscopic colors and tight tension were the hallmarks of a memorable three-game wild-card series. The Mets’ season ended at Citi Field.
The futures of both teams seemed limitless at the time.
Well, maybe not so much.
Instead, these star groups are mirror images of each other, with outrageous paychecks and exorbitant expectations. But the images are distorted by the looking glass.
Despite their recent hot streaks, the Mets and Padres have little to show for more than half a billion in combined payroll for the 2023 season. According to Spotrac, the Mets’ total payroll is estimated at more than $340 million, while the Padres are on the hook for more than $240 million. For that money, each team entered the weekend at 41-46, 6.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League’s third wild-card spot.
The Mets’ desperation to fix their season was expressed by shortstop Francisco Lindor during the sweep of Arizona. He was so ill that he had to miss Wednesday’s game and only bounced back after receiving intravenous fluids for dehydration. He went 5 for 5 with two triples and a homer as the Mets beat the first-place Diamondbacks 9-0 on Thursday.
Goodbye, virus; Hello, hope?
“We’re going to make something out of it,” Lindor promised after the game. “Now the question becomes how deep are we going to go?”
The Padres’ own frustration was evident a night earlier. They bounced back with a 1-5 run through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which manager Bob Melvin called a “bad trip.” With two wins against the Angels, they had a chance to complete their first series sweep of the season. San Diego’s All-Star closer Josh Hader worked Monday and Tuesday and has not pitched for three straight days since 2021. Having made the most of his years in Milwaukee, he turned down an opportunity to do the same in San Francisco last month.
With the Padres leading 5-3 in the ninth inning on Wednesday, here came Hader.
“He realizes where we’re at as a team,” Melvin explained. “So he wanted the ball tonight in a save situation.”
“It was the perfect situation and I was able to do it,” Hader said Friday. “It comes down to making sure you’re healthy. In the long run, if I can’t deliver to the team later because of injury, it’s no use.
Although the Padres’ rotation led the NL with 39 hitting through Thursday, they entered the series with the Mets looking to extend their modest hitting streak to a season-high four straight wins.
Hits have been hard to string together because of their .219 batting average with runners in scoring position, the worst in the majors entering Friday’s game. A team with sluggers like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tadis Jr. was staring down terrible clubs like Oakland (29th, .229), Kansas City (28th, .233) and Detroit (27th, .236).
The Padres’ .194 batting average in “late/closer” situations — defined by Baseball Reference as “a team batting from the seventh inning on in a tie game, leading by one run or capable of tying. Run on deck” — ranked 29th in the majors through Thursday.
Not surprisingly, given that number, the Padres were 1-for-36 when trailing after seven innings. Cardiac babies, they don’t.
Still looking for a combination that clicks, San Diego parted ways with struggling designated hitter Nelson Cruz on Tuesday and assigned him for assignment. Even if one bats right-handed and the other left-handed, there’s no reason for veterans to pinch-hit him and Matt Carpenter on the bench.
It wasn’t an expected move from a team that sprinted all the way to the NL Championship Series before losing to Philadelphia last October. It shows how much the Padres have to change if they want to get back into contention.
“We have to come out every day and play our last,” Bogarts said.
The Mets and Padres have been so intriguing this summer that each team’s owner held a mini State of the Union address within four days.
On June 28 at Citi Field, manager Buck Shoulder and general manager Billy Eppler presented Steven A. Cohen offered public support. He reiterated that he still plans to hire a president of baseball operations. The worst-kept secret in the game is that David Stearns, the former head coach of the Brewers, is likely to fill that role once his contract with Milwaukee expires.
In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune on July 1, Padres owner Peter Seidler said the team’s president of baseball operations, A.J. Showed support to Preller. Like Cohen, Seidler said he has value. “Stability.” He added: “I’m getting better. For me, A.J.
Speaking Friday, Machado, like Seidler, opted for an optimistic, long view.
“It makes everything more special when you’re struggling,” Machado said. “You look back, I went through all this, and, oh, look how positive things happened.”
Now, arguably the game’s two most disappointing teams will have one last chance to push back the gloom by extending the small glimpses of sunshine they captured in the early days of July. The trade deadline begins on August 1st, and Eppler and Breller will have to decide soon whether they will be buyers or sellers.
After going 7-19 in June, the Mets had 17 hits and collected 32 total bases on Thursday night. The Mets played a smooth, 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 a six-game winning streak, Mets starting pitching Carlos Carrasco threw his best 1.80 ERA of the season on Thursday, and Verlander and Max Scherzer are running together in the rotation after detours including injuries and, for Scherzer, a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s ban on foreign substances on baseball. Suspension.
Although Verlander was shaky in parts of his start in San Diego, surrendering two earned runs and walking three in six innings, he has now worked six or more innings in seven of 12 starts this season.
“Every day is its own entity and we want to build on a solid performance,” said Alonso, taking early batting practice on his first day in San Diego in preparation for Monday’s Seattle Home Run Derby. “You can’t think too much about the future. You just have to focus on winning today.