CHICAGO - Situational hitting, one of the sins that forced the ouster of former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens, remains the Mets' most-glaring weakness.
For one mostly positive week, the Mets could brush that fact aside, racking up victories despite a lack of noticeable improvement under new hitting coach Lamar Johnson. But Tuesday night, in a 2-1 walk-off loss to the Cubs, there was no hiding the Mets' offensive incompetence.
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The Mets were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 baserunners.
"We gave this away," said Mets captain David Wright, who bobbled a potential double play ball that might have helped the Mets escape the bottom of the ninth.
Later in the inning, Mets lefty Scott Rice gave up the winning hit to Nate Schierholtz, who sent a rocket to rightfield that went against his trouble against lefties. It was possible only because the Cubs tied it in the eighth when lefty reliever Josh Edgin gave up a homer to lefty Chris Coghlan. Yet, the blame fell on an offense that scratched out just one run, squandering 6 2/3 shutout innings by Zack Wheeler.
The Mets are hitting .235 with runners in scoring position. Yet, even though they've gone 6-2 since Hudgens' dismissal, they are hitting just .200 with runners in scoring position during that stretch.
Even at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, they endured a familiar cycle, getting runners on base only to leave them there. The worst example came in the third, when the Mets loaded the bases with nobody out, and found a way not to score.
"The third inning we let get away from us," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And it came back to hurt us."
First, it hurt Wheeler, who allowed just two hits, two walks and struck out seven. After slumping to start the season, the 24-year-old righthander has shown signs of turning his season around. "Personally, it's two good starts in a row," said Wheeler, who left with a 1-0 lead, only to watch it evaporate.
The Mets scratched out one run on a Curtis Granderson sacrifice fly in the first inning to score Matt den Dekker. From there, they missed chance after chance despite chasing starter Jake Arrieta after just 4 2/3 innings.
Wheeler kept posting zeros. The Mets did the same, even against the Cubs bullpen. Trouble seemed inevitable. It came in the eighth.
Edgin has been brilliant since his promotion May 15. He hadn't surrendered a homer in his first 10 appearances, and Coghlan hadn't hit one in his first 20 games. But Coghlan, who entered play hitting just .139, smacked a solo shot over the ivy in left-center.
The Mets could have escaped trouble in the ninth. After Anthony Rizzo's leadoff single against Rice, Starlin Castro hit a hard grounder to third base. Had Wright fielded it cleanly, the Mets might have turned a double play. Instead, he said the ball took a bigger hop than he anticipated.
When the ball hit the heel of his glove, Wright was forced to get the out at first base, allowing Rizzo to get into scoring position. Rice bounced back to strike out Luis Valbuena before Schierholtz won it.
By missing their chances, the Mets left the door open for the Cubs to rally. Said Wright: "That kind of gets the momentum on their side."