NEW YORK — The days of uncertainty seemed to be vanishing in the New York Mets’ rearview mirror over the past week. Injury issues that had been a drag on the team all season were beginning to clear, and the club reeled off six wins in seven games. It had the feel of another run to the postseason.
Then came Sunday and a sobering reality: Uncertainty will stay with the Mets for their final 32 games.
The team’s two most reliable hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, were unable to start the game. In the first inning of the 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before 32,033 at Citi Field, the Mets’ third-most reliable hitter, starting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, came out of the game after aggravating a left knee injury.
Manager Terry Collins will wake up every morning for the final five weeks of the regular season not knowing who will be in his starting lineup. Cespedes is trying to play through a right quadriceps strain. Walker is trying to play with a back issue. Cabrera has tendinitis in his knee.
“It’s been an interesting year and frustrating at times, so it’s just day-by-day right now. Guys come in here, and you see who’s good to go and who’s not,” Walker said. “Hopefully it all goes well with everyone who’s banged up and we can throw a good lineup out there.”
Cabrera came off the disable list Aug. 19 and hit .438 with nine RBIs in the eight games before Sunday. He bunted for a hit in the first inning but was in a collision with Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph. He came away from the contact holding his wrist. He remained in the game, but something had aggravated the knee. When Collins and his staff saw him run unnaturally to second base on a Kelly Johnson single, they took him out.
“But with the way all of a sudden we’ve played here in these last four or five days, this took a little air out of the balloon in that first inning tonight,” Collins said.
The Mets got three more runners into scoring position and stranded them all. Rookie righty Robert Gsellman threw six impressive innings of one-run ball, then gave up three hits to start the seventh. The Mets bullpen allowed all three to score in a four-run Philadelphia rally.
The Mets remain 2 1/2 games out for the second National League wild card, and they missed a chance to gain ground on Sunday, with the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins losing.
The moment is calling for Jay Bruce, the Mets’ big trade-deadline acquisition, to rise to the occasion, but Bruce has yet to play like the run producer he was in Cincinnati.
Bruce went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts on Sunday. In 23 games since the trade, he is batting .165 with six RBIs and 26 strikeouts. He had 25 home runs and 80 RBIs in 97 games with the Reds before he was traded. The Mets are still searching for an answer as to why he has struggled.
“We got him for a reason, and we’ve got to somehow get him to settle in and do some damage for us because that’s a big spot,” Collins said. “When you don’t have [Cespedes] … you need production. I think he’s adding a little extra heat on himself.”
The news of the day was not all bad, however. Starter Steven Matz threw a bullpen session, and the sore shoulder that has sidelined him felt better. He will throw another session before starting Thursday in the finale of a key four-game series against Miami in New York.
Collins said that Cabrera responded to ice after coming out of the game, and they will know more on Monday. Cespedes expects to play Monday, while Walker was optimistic that his recurring back discomfort will clear with treatment and exercise.