Zack Wheeler dominates stumbling Mets offense in series finale vs. Phillies

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Zack Wheeler returned to his old stomping ground and showed the Mets why they should be at least a little bitter he’s pitching for the other side now.

The former longtime Met struck out eight batters over seven shutout innings in the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Phillies in the series finale on Sunday. Though Wheeler has been brilliant for the Phillies this season — he carries a 2.20 ERA, ninth best in MLB — the Mets wasted their two key opportunities to score against him in another disenchanting offensive performance.

The Mets’ .674 OPS ranks 26th in the league and their .366 slugging percentage dropped to 29th. The Pirates and the Amazin’s have battled it out for which team has the fewest runs per game in MLB this season. The Mets finished Sunday with a slight edge over Pittsburgh in that category, good for 29th in the league.

Powerless Mets bats have been the story all year, before and after the early-season firing of hitting coach Chili Davis, with little improvement after Hugh Quattlebaum became head hitting honcho. Earlier in the year, the Mets said they were waiting for consistency in their disjointed schedule. Then they were waiting for the weather to warm up. Now, they’re waiting for injured players to rejoin the team.

“I don’t think there’s any panic or rush or anxiousness at all,” Pete Alonso said of the struggling offense. “We’re still not even halfway over with the season. We still have so much baseball left, and granted every game is important, but there’s going to be times where we are scorching hot and there’s going to be times where it’s not going to be like that.

“Wheels did a hell of a job against our lineup today. You have to tip your cap. When you get guys with electric stuff, it’s tough to get going.”

Though there were 25,480 fans in Citi Field to watch the divisional matchup on Sunday, among the team’s largest crowds of the season, Wheeler silenced them all for three hours. Not until the eighth inning, when Phillies manager Joe Girardi went to his dreadful bullpen, did the crowd — and the Mets — wake up.

The Mets made it interesting by scoring one run against reliever Jose Alvarado via Alonso’s RBI single in the eighth and Kevin Pillar bringing them even closer with a solo home run in the ninth. But the random sparks of hitting weren’t enough to bring any sort of consistency into the game, nor bring the offense back from the dead.

“They’re going to click, that’s just what I think,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said of his lineup. “We just gotta keep working hard. We have our hitting coaches working hard every day and the camaraderie is good in the clubhouse and I think guys are going to make their adjustments and we’re going to get hot as an offensive team too.”

Rojas and Alonso preached that the offense will significantly improve when the team has its complete lineup back. Brandon Nimmo is due to return this week against the Braves and J.D. Davis is beginning a rehab assignment for Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday. Once those two key hitters return, the Mets will be operating at full strength for the first time in almost two months. The team is banking on a spark before the All-Star break.

“I honestly think this team is ready to put up a bunch of runs consistently,” Alonso said. “Once we get back in that groove and get jelling together, we’re going to put up a lot of runs.”

The Mets (40-33) settled for a series split against the Phillies following a dramatic four-game set that featured blown saves, walk-offs and excellent pitching performances. The Mets dropped their first-place lead to four games in the NL East after Sunday’s loss. They head to Nationals Park on Monday for a makeup game before opening a three-game series in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Marcus Stroman pitched just three innings after giving up four runs (two earned) on five hits against the Phillies. His command was off as he walked three batters, his second highest of the season. But he didn’t get much help from his defense either after Michael Conforto and Kevin Pillar made a pair of outstanding catches for the first two outs of the game. Luis Guillorme and Jeff McNeil each committed errors that led to a pair of Phillies runs.

Stroman will not be with the team for an unspecified amount of time, Rojas announced after the game. He will spend time with his family after the recent passing of his grandmother. The Mets expect Stroman to make his next start, lined up for Friday against the Yankees in the first game of the Subway Series, but he would need to go through his usual routine between starts first.

“At this point, we want him to take care of this,” Rojas said. “It’s something that happened a couple of days ago and he wants to be there for his family. He’s been there for his family the last couple of days, but he wanted to pitch today.”

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