MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Answers for Mets might come from within

Unlike 2015, acquiring a difference maker at Trade Deadline won't be easy

Answers for Mets might come from within

CHICAGO -- Bartolo Colon rarely falls behind hitters when he's on his game. Yet he threw 17 balls among 33 pitches in the first inning on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Colon, who is 43, wound up giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings as the Mets lost to the Cubs, 6-2. It marked his third consecutive non-quality start, and he's given up 15 runs in 14 2/3 innings during this stretch.

You can't help but wonder if Colon's age is finally catching up to him.

"We have no other options right now,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If he was 53, he's going to be out there.''

The Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline is approaching, and few contenders could use some outside help more than the defending National League champions. General manager Sandy Alderson might have something up his sleeve, but there have been few indications he's working toward making the kind of bold move he did a year ago.

Yoenis Cespedes, who came from the Tigers at the cost of pitchers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa, cured everything that ailed a 52-50 team last year. He was so good that Alderson decided to re-sign him over the offseason, which may limit the flexibility that Alderson has to strike again.

A deal for an innings-eating starting pitcher would be a big help now, but the Mets don't have the deepest farm system around nor seem inclined to deal their top prospects, shortstop Amed Rosario and first baseman Dominic Smith.

It's safe to say Collins isn't sitting around waiting for the cavalry to ride in and rescue a team that is sliding farther behind the Nationals and recently fell out of a tie for the second NL Wild Card spot.

"I don't go there,'' Collins said about possible reinforcements. "I don't ever worry about that. That's not my job. My job is to walk through the locker room and see whose name is in the locker room that day. Make sure they're ready to play and hopefully put them in positions where they're successful. I never would worry about who we don't have. You can't do it. I've got an outstanding general manager and his staff. If they think we need help and they can get help, they'll get help. Right now, my focus is only on the guys we have here.''

Injuries and lingering stress from the 2015 run to the World Series have kept the Mets from remaining as the pitching-driven force they were.

Only 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jacob deGrom is clicking on all cylinders. Matt Harvey is out for the season with thoracic outlet syndrome, and both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are being constantly monitored because of bone spurs in their elbows.

As a result, the Mets have been unable to do more than tread water. They dropped two out of three against the Cubs after winning two of three in Philadelphia. Their starting rotation still ranks third in the NL with a 3.44 ERA, but every game seems stressful.

Syndergaard neutralized a strong outing from NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta on Tuesday night, but only with help from the bullpen; the Cubs forced him to throw 105 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. It was the third start in Syndergaard's past four when he couldn't complete the sixth inning.

So don't even ask about getting creative with the rotation.

"We don't have the animals for it right now,'' Collins said. "We've got to worry about Matz. We have to worry about Syndergaard. Logan Verrett has been pushed into the rotation. We've got Bart. You can only get so many guys. Right now with [Harvey] being down, we don't know what our options are. You bring up a guy and all of a sudden now your bullpen is short. We're trying to be careful with those guys, not overworking them. Now when you shorten your bullpen, you have to push your starter farther. There are a lot of dynamics that go into it. You never have enough pitching.''

Alderson is working to improve the Mets' pitching depth, but it seems more likely he'll add another arm or two for the bullpen (most likely to work behind Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Hansel Robles and Jerry Blevins, who have been effective) than a starter or maybe another piece for his bench.

In regards to the lineup that lost corner infielders David Wright and Lucas Duda to injuries, it's doubtful there will be bigger acquisitions than the recent signing of Jose Reyes. Wilmer Flores and James Loney have been productive in a first-base platoon, and Duda is in the early stages of his comeback from a stress fracture in his back.

Duda could return by September. The challenge is to stay viable until then.

This weekend's series in Miami could be telling. Collins says the Mets need to win at least two out of three, which won't be easy with the Marlins pitching Jose Fernandez on Saturday.

"This is what this time of the year brings,'' Collins said. "When you're in a pennant race, there are big games, against big teams, against good pitching. That's why the game's great, and why it's fun.''

Trade rumors are fun, too. But there are years you trade for an impact player like Cespedes and years that you try to find a winning formula with the pieces in your clubhouse.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.