Buck Showalter NY Mets
Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

The Mets did pretty much all they could. And still.

They had a soft 10-game stretch to get well after being slapped around by the Astros. They went 6-4. Sure, it could have been 7-3 or 8-2. But it wasn’t 5-5 or 4-6 or worse.    And yet, here they are. What was a three-game lead in the NL East over the reigning world champion Braves on June 29 is now a 1.5-game edge on July 11; three games up in the loss column is now two.

Which brings us to this three-game series starting Monday night in Atlanta. Barring a rainout, there will be movement. The Mets could head to Chicago on Wednesday with an expanded lead; they could also fly out in what amounts to a dead heat. Or even in second place.

Braves manager Brian Snitker is right. His team can’t win the division this week. Nor can the Mets. But while it would be too much to say they could lose it this week, a series loss (or sweep) would be a significant blow. The last month and a half has largely been spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. It hasn’t, of course. And if the Mets can get two games over the next three days, it may be finally enough proof to believe it won’t. But if this goes sideways and the Braves keep rolling on this torrid run, whoa boy. And if new Brave Robinson Cano actually does something? Talk about doom and gloom.

That said, there will be tomorrows no matter what happens in this series. Seventy-three more, in fact, plus the postseason. Because yes, the Mets are headed there. The division is critical, but there is nothing to suggest this is not one of the top-3 teams in the NL, much less one of the six that will make the newly-bloated bracket this fall. And there are some big questions — and decisions — the brain trust of manager Buck Showalter, general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen must tackle in the coming days.

Does Francisco Alvarez get the call? The star prospect is settling in at Triple-A Syracuse after bashing 18 home runs for Double-A Binghamton. The Mets likely wanted to slow roll the slugging catcher’s ascension, and understandably so. But with James McCann expected to miss extended time with his oblique injury and a challenging trade market at the position, it may be time to roll the dice. Alvarez will likely catch Jacob deGrom’s next rehab start. That will mean he has worked with both Mets aces in the last few weeks. If he’s got Max Scherzer’s stamp of approval and then he gets deGrom’s, go with it and see if you catch lightning in a bottle. Even if Alvarez has to DH more than catch.

What does Jacob deGrom need to show before the trade deadline? If all goes well, the Mets should be able to get a start or two out of deGrom before August 2. Will they see enough to be convinced they do not need to make a move for another starting pitcher? Or will they commit to adding either way? Given deGrom’s injury history (and Scherzer’s too, really), the smart move would be to add an arm. But in a seller’s market, there may be bigger priorities.

Who will be the much-needed bat? The Nationals’ Nelson Cruz makes sense. So would a reunion with the Reds’ Brandon Drury. If they want to go big, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras would eliminate the need to rush Alvarez. But the cost figures to be too immense. The unlikelihood the annual Orioles firesale will happen doesn’t help.

Or will the internal options be enough? J.D. Davis has shown more life of late. McCann had started to hit Dom Smith could always come around. Alvarez could soon arrive. Maybe the Mets don’t make a move in the lineup, stand pat and focus on the rotation and the bullpen?

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com


James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.