Mets aren’t worried about rivals closing in

ANAHEIM — When the Mets began their 10-game tour of Southern California on June 2, it seemed worth noting that even if they lost every game on the trip, they were guaranteed to return home first. When their plane landed at LAX this week, the Mets had a season-high 10 1/2 game lead in the National League East. Of course, it was unrealistic to think that they could lose all of their games in the West, just as it was unlikely that the Braves would win all of their games at the same stretch.

Consider these predictions halfway correct. The Mets actually haven’t lost all of their games in California. Losing an 11-6 contest to the Angels on Saturday saw them drop to 4-5 on the trip with one game to go – a perfectly acceptable result given the difficulty of overland travel and the quality of the teams awaiting them at the pacific coast. And yet, remarkably, almost half of New York’s NL East Pad has evaporated since the journey began. The Braves, who are on a 10-game winning streak, haven’t lost since the Mets left Queens. Even the Phillies are catching up, thanks to a nine-game winning streak of their own.

The Mets held a 5 1/2 game lead after Saturday’s loss at Angel Stadium, in which Jared Walsh scored for the cycle and Carlos Carrasco allowed a total of five hits, two homers, four RBIs and four runs against Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani versus the Braves. In relative terms, it’s still a comfortable margin – the widest of any NL division leader. The Mets still have the best record in the NL. They’re on pace for 104 wins. If the order were different, fans would love it.

So exhale. As manager Buck Showalter, king of the big picture, likes to say, “The sky doesn’t fall. It’s just raining.”

“I haven’t looked at the table since we left New York,” Showalter said Saturday. “All that stuff, we can’t do anything about it, right? If you look at how good they are [NL East] Teams are, it’s kind of obvious, eventually they’re going to get going.”

It’s worth noting that the Braves’ winning streak has come against the D-Backs, Rockies, A’s and Pirates, all well under .500. The Mets, meanwhile, held their own against the Dodgers, Padres and Angels, all playoff contenders. (Yes, the Angels are just three games away from a wild card spot, despite their recent 14-game losing streak.)

According to ESPN’s schedule strength calculations, the Mets went into action Saturday after tackling the fourth-toughest schedule of any team, while the Braves finished 19th in that division. That equation will eventually shift as the Mets face an easier slate of games in July than they did in June.

Most promisingly, the New York September calendar features heavy doses of the Nationals, Pirates, Marlins, Cubs and A’s, all under .500. Twenty-one of the Mets’ 26 games this month will be played against teams that are currently losing more than they are winning. It’s the perfect recipe for the Mets to pursue their Premier League title since 2015 if they can just get through the rest of that stretch without injured superstars Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.

“I think we pay attention to how we play here,” said Carrasco. “We only care about how we play here. We try not to think about these games. We’ll just keep playing hard and that’s it.”

Players like Carrasco who try to live by such game-at-a-time axioms tend not to view the schedule in terms of easy and difficult encounters. They implicitly understand that games against the Dodgers, Padres and Angels will be more challenging than those against the Reds, Pirates and Cubs – especially when they hit the streets three time zones away from Queens where factors like jet lag and stadium conditions can be considered affect their performance.

None of that colors their approach. The Mets are now trying to win games no matter who they play against.

Despite recently halving their lead in the division, they have done so more efficiently than any other NL team.

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