Mets’ resiliency is about to get tested again vs. Marlins

You wonder at what point the levee will break. The Mets have avoided calamity all year, even when the injured list looked like a triage unit, even when the starting rotation began to resemble a MAS*H unit. They have dodged catastrophe, always understanding that the best Band-Aid, the best salve, the best aspirin tablet, is winning.

It’s late June and the Mets have weathered every monsoon.

Can they still? Was this two-loss stop in Houston — first sweep of the year, fourth series loss, all of them to various Western Division teams — simply a product of running into a team that has known nothing but winning for eight years?

Or is there something else lurking? All teams hit skids, even good ones. The sainted ’86 Mets had two four-game losing streaks; the ’22 Mets still haven’t lost three straight. Still, they do keep ratcheting up the degree of difficulty.

Carlos Carrasco left Wednesday’s 5-3 loss in the third inning with back stiffness after getting pounded early. That makes four starting pitchers presently indisposed, though Max Scherzer may be days away from returning. Jeff McNeil sat out both games in Houston, and Eduardo Escobar hurt his leg late in Wednesday’s game. A nick here. A nick there. It usually adds up. It hasn’t just yet for the Mets.

Mets
Carlos Carrasco exits the Mets loss against the Astros on Wednesday.
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Will it now?

“We’ll take a day,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said, referring to the off-day Thursday that’ll precede a three-game series in Miami with the Marlins.

Not for the first time, the big lead the Mets crafted across the first two months of the schedule is really their best ally, even as the Braves have chipped away at it. It has allowed them to ward off the annoyances of injury, and the way they’ve played in building and maintaining that first-place cushion has done the rest.

But for how long can they sustain that?

This trip to Houston promised to be an intriguing matchup, a couple of first-place clubs who were both playing well and do many of the same things well: defense, solid hitting, resilient starting pitching. But the Astros clobbered the Mets on Tuesday, 8-2, and chased Carrasco with four first-inning runs and another in the third before Cookie retired for the day.

The Mets did add some intrigue to the afternoon in the sixth, scratching for two runs and loading the bases, and for a minute it really did look like they were going to be able to use their most reliable antidote of the season to date: winning, which helps make all of the other ailments and worries tolerable.

But Escobar popped out, which stalled the rally, and Dom Smith — freshly restored from his Triple-A stint at Syracuse — struck out to kill it. Even the presence of one old rival — Hector Neris — and one old friend — Rafael Montero — out of the Houston bullpen couldn’t move the needle. And 35,415 Astros fans left Minute Maid Park delighted by all of that.

The Mets?

It doesn’t get any easier. Friday in Miami they’ll face Sandy Alcantara for the second time in six days, and all Alcantara has done is carve himself a spot among the front-runners for NL Cy Young. And it always seems like the Fish save their most sinister tricks for when the Mets visit what is now known as LoanDepot Park, which sits on the footprint of the old Orange Bowl.

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Francisco Lindor sits on the bench during the Mets’ loss to the Astros on Wednesday.
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So far, every time the season has hinted at knocking the Mets down, they’ve found their feet quickly. They’ve survived the bookend absences of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They survived the 11-day, 10-game gauntlet out west. They’ve done it by never getting too far ahead of themselves and refusing to succumb to panic, which is a reason to believe they might not pitch Scherzer Sunday, even though he’s likely to join them in Miami.

“Max knows that we want him to pitch the rest of the season for us,” Showalter said, hinting at a caution that would be entirely prudent. For Scherzer’s recovery, yes; but also to remind the Mets the levee is strong enough to withstand a little rain. And maybe even a thunderstorm or two.