Hours later, New York’s now dominant, Edwin Diaz, and a somewhat shaky defense took a one-run lead in the ninth. At least in the context of recent history, on-field misfortune followed an off-field wrong move, a classic Mets combination.
But this time, instead of spiraling, the often-talented Mets did something they seemed talented enough, but too frantic to do in recent years: they recovered.
By evening everything was fine again. Enthusiastic slugger Pete Alonso destroyed a two-run walk-off home run to salvage the game and secure a series win over the St. The Mets started what could be a two-month stretch without their aces in the National League East with a seven-game lead. They were set to finish the first six weeks of the season with the most wins in the National League. Everything was not going well. But all was not going wrong either.
For anyone eager for proof that owner Steve Cohen, general manager Billy Appler and manager Buck Showalter’s Mets will be different from the chaotic, old Mets of recent years, a day that might have something to offer.
So could his strong and steady start to a season that has seen him lose not only to DeGrom and Shazer with injury, but also to starting catcher James McCann and key reliever Trevor May.
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So could the fact that they’re doing it all without a decisive breakout from shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has looked more like a $341 million deal man than a star disappointed in his 10-year first year . Then again, all of this may mean nothing a few months from now.
“We’re all looking for, ‘This could mean this trend is starting to take off.’ That’s what we do. Heck, I did it,” said Showalter in his first year with the team. “I understand. But I see one thing: we have to be better than four teams this year.
Much of the difference in the behavior of these Mets stems from Showalter, who during his first years at the clubhouse was known for his attention to detail and ability. He has done everything from turning the lights on in the clubhouse brighter to keep everyone alert to a greater emphasis on defensive subtlety and offensive grounds than the Mets in recent seasons.
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And under Showalter’s watch—and perhaps because of his detail-oriented influence—the Mets have emerged as reliable situational hitters. Entering Saturday’s games, the Mets finished eighth in the Majors with 4.60 runs per game. They strike fewer than all but four teams in baseball. Their strikeout and walk ratio is even better than all the four teams. Entering Saturday, only one team saw more pitches than the Mets. Last year, no team saw less in baseball.
Outfielder Mark Canha said that when the Mets were in Washington for their season-opening series with the Nationals, he spoke of taking a less ambitious approach. It was April. He knew the ball would not fly well in cold weather. There was no point in trying to launch homers for the Mets when they could have won with a single through the opposite side.
“It’s a focus thing. It’s something that a lot of players have the ability to do that they just don’t care to tap or try to do,” said Canha to manage the desire to swing big. Said about The reality of taking what is given is given. “Our guys are constantly doing a little more. I think that’s an option, obviously.”
Good positional hit at the cost of reliable power certainly sounds better when it results in a win. The New York approach has done just that. But anyone looking for a crack at these Mets can attest to the fact that they aren’t brimming with the kind of power that elite teams often rely on these days.
The Mets are 22nd in the majors in home run rate and 21st in at-bats per home run. Of the 12 teams entering Saturday with the Mets having scored as many or fewer home runs, only one, the San Diego Padres, holds the winning record.
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And when it comes to peripheral stats that are more reliable indicators of offensive power these days, the Mets aren’t hitting like a team destined for a power surge. They have the ninth lowest average projection angle among the majors. They have the third lowest average exhaust velocity. Only five teams have fewer barrels on average per plate attendance than the Mets.
“Statistically, we are not hitting home runs like many other teams, but it turns out in other ways – in more hits, getting more on base, running more,” Kanha said. “It’s visible in ways that don’t show up on the scorecard, by seeing more pitches, other pitchers working harder to get us out.”
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Exactly how much of that lineup is needed will depend on how the Mets’ rotation, which started the year with elite depth at the top, but less certainty elsewhere, will hold without Scherzer and deGrom. He has a real third ace in the form of Chris Bassit, who seems to be as comfortable in New York as any newcomer can be. They have a former American League winning leader in Carlos Carrasco. And breakout star Tyler Magill is already on his way back from a biceps injury that stalled an excellent start to the season.
Together, the Mets were sixth in the majors in the starters ERA and eighth in strikeouts in the nine innings that entered Saturday’s games. Scherzer has helped, but deGrom hasn’t looked into those calculations yet. When he does, that rotation can be even better. But the question for the Mets has never been whether they are good enough when things are going well. This team and its new manager have to prove that, unlike the old Mets teams, it’s good enough when things go wrong.