Numerous times in recent weeks, a loss has been described as the final blow for the New York Mets' wild-card aspirations, only to see them win a few games and get some help in the race.
As the Mets enter the final week of their wildly inconsistent season, time may be finally running out as they visit the Cincinnati Reds for the finale of a three-game series on Sunday.
New York (80-74) is 4 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild-card spot, leaving the Mets' elimination number at four. The Brewers (85-70) have won 14 of 16 and are hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
The Mets lost to the Reds 3-2 on Saturday when they were held to three hits and struck out 12 times. A day after hitting his 50th homer, first-baseman Pete Alonso went 0-for-4, including striking out with the bases loaded to end the fifth.
"It's a tough one," Mets third baseman Todd Frazier said. "These are the games you're supposed to win. I felt like we had to go 9-1 (down the stretch). Here's our one. We let it get away. When you lose, you have to hope for some losses. That's the stage we're at right now, and that's not a good stage."
New York staggered to a 40-51 record just after the All-Star break due to sub-par bullpen performances, and the relievers struggled again in Saturday's costly loss.
Justin Wilson allowed a walk and a hit with one out in the eighth, and Seth Lugo came in and got a strikeout, but then allowed a pinch-hit single to Christian Colon, who also had a big RBI hit for the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against the Mets at Citi Field.
The Mets were 46-55 after a 7-2 loss to San Diego on July 24, but they went on a 15-1 surge that got them within a half-game of Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot following a 4-3 win over Washington on Aug. 10.
New York then lost 10 of 16, culminating in a six-game losing streak at home to Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs that left them five games out of the second wild-card spot.
New York has won 13 of its last 21 games since the six-game losing streak, but that stretch has included a 4 1/2-hour home loss to the Philadelphia Phillies two weeks ago and a 3-2 home loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept 15 when Lugo and Wilson allowed late hits.
While Cincinnati (73-82) clinched its sixth straight losing season Friday, it is possible the Reds may impact the race even further over the next four games. After hosting the Mets, Cincinnati hosts Milwaukee for a three-game series that starts Tuesday.
"They're fun games to play. We've talked about it being a good experience for our guys," Reds manager David Bell said. "It's also a good experience to win. The more we can get used to that, the better."
The Mets will start Marcus Stroman (9-13, 3.21 ERA) and hope he can deliver a third straight solid start. Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine starts as a Met and followed up allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings against Arizona on Sept. 12 by tossing seven scoreless innings in a 6-1 win at Colorado on Tuesday.
Stroman's only career start against Cincinnati was May 29, 2017, for Toronto when he picked up a win after allowing two runs on six hits in six innings.
Trevor Bauer (11-12, 4.41 ERA) will make his 10th start for the Reds and first career start against the Mets. He is 2-4 with a 6.39 ERA since being acquired from Cleveland.
Bauer is 1-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his last three starts. He last pitched Sept. 15 in Arizona when he allowed one run on four hits in eight innings to get the win.
Bauer has made just one appearance against the Mets, pitching two shutout innings in relief in 2016.
--Field Level Media
On the brink, Mets hope Stroman can beat Reds