In a season when the Mets have groped so hungrily for offense and struggled to win consistently, Tuesday night’s 6-1 victory over the first-place Nationals should have been a cause for celebration, or at the very least a positive sign. Instead, if one looks closely at how most of those six runs were scored, the victory becomes yet another indictment of New York’s insipid hitting.
The second run: bottom of the second, two outs, Zack Wheeler bloops a ball into shallow right field that falls in front of Asdrubal Cabrera, still adjusting to a new position, and scores Travis d’Arnaud from third. Mets up 2-0.
The third, fourth, and fifth runs: top of the seventh, with the bases loaded and one out, Daniel Murphy hit a would-be double play ball that scooted under the glove of Cabrera and into center-field for a “single” (even the Mets announcers agreed it should have been ruled an error). Two runners come around to score. Two batters later, Lucas Duda pops one up, watching it gracefully fall between the left fielder, shortstop, and center-fielder, scoring Juan Lagares and bringing the score to 5-1.
The Mets slipped and stumbled and crashed their way into six runs last night against the Nationals.
Now there is something to be said about putting runners on and being ready for the lucky bounces. Chris Young deserves credit for his nine-pitch walk that started New York’s seventh inning rally, as does Ruben Tejada for his hard-hit infield single. In reality, though, the Mets were lucky on this end of the ball as well.
Daniel Murphy’s triple that set up the Mets’ opening run in the first wasn’t a rip so much as it was a moderately hit bouncer that just escaped the glove of first baseman Adam Laroche. And Lagares, who scored in the seventh, reached base thanks to a hit-by-pitch, as did D’Arnaud – who scored the Mets’ eighth inning run. A walk requires plate discipline, but for a hit-by-pitch, the onus is squarely on the pitcher.
This just underscores New York’s bevy of offensive woes over the last few weeks. Since the All Star break, they have scored the fourth fewest runs (54) in baseball. Only Cincinnati has an OPS lower than the Mets’ .580 mark, and they are tied for the fifth fewest home runs (10) hit over that span.
Lucas Duda’s recent hot streak and a pair of seven + run outbursts against the Phillies have helped keep their failings under wraps. Strong pitching and a resultant 9-9 record have done the trick as well.
But when the Mets scored 11 runs against the Phillies, it was off of the mediocre Kyle Kendrick (5-13, 4.74 ERA) and a cast of middle relievers. And sandwiched between their seven and eleven run performances against Philadelphia, was a shutout at the hands of Cole Hamels, in which they mustered only one extra base hit.
In fact, in the 17 games since their 5-4 victory over San Diego on July 18th, the Mets have managed to score more than four runs just three times. They’ve brought less than four runners around 13 times and have been shut out three times. During that span, they have a league worst .206 batting average.
Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda may be hitting, but David Wright – who is likely still being negatively impacted by an injured shoulder – is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. Since July 19th, he has a .250 on base percentage and just one extra base hit – a double. The captain may have a four game hitting streak, but he has just one hit in each of those games: all singles.
Ruben Tejada is hitting .182 since the break, his .321 OBP largely a product of intentional walks and pitch-arounds due to his hitting eighth in the lineup.
After a rough July, Juan Lagares is starting to find his stride, both with the bat and the glove, but Curtis Granderson has cooled considerably. His average has dropped by 15 points, his OPS by 39, and has hit .130 with a .230 on base percentage and just one home run over his last 15 games.
The third outfielder, Chris Young, is worse than ever, with a .551 OPS since the break.
Even Travis D’Arnaud, for all his success since returning from Triple-A, has not been immune, with a .267 on base percentage since the All-Star Game.
Now, these struggles can be partially chalked up to bad luck. As a team, the Mets have a collective .256 batting average on balls in play since the break, after posting a .295 mark before it. In this respect, last night’s splattering of bloop hits and ground balls with eyes can be viewed as evening out some line drives that were hit directly at opposing fielders in previous games.
But clearly there is more to this than just luck. Luck has not prevented this team from hitting home runs. It has not put them in the bottom two thirds in the majors for walks since the All-Star Break.
New York’s pitching has kept them bobbing around .500, but if they ever want to really stay afloat and contend, some of those surplus starters will have to be dealt. This lineup is desperate.