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Mets' missing ingredient may be Chili Davis

Mets hitting coach Chili Davis watches from the

Mets hitting coach Chili Davis watches from the top of the dugout steps during a spring training game against the Astros on Feb. 25, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

In J.D. Davis’ words, it’s like the Mets "are just missing something."

At first glance, the numbers seem to be there – the Mets are toward the top of a slew of offensive categories, including tops in batting average going into Tuesday – but the results haven’t jibed with that reality.

They’re clinging to the smallest of statistical postseason hopes. Their offense, for as good as its been on paper, hasn’t been able to compensate for its starting pitching. And despite some of those numbers, consistent contributors like Pete Alonso and Davis haven’t been themselves. It’s one thing to be hitting a league-high .273 as a team, and to have a fourth-best OPS, but it’s quite another to have that translate to only 11th best in runs scored and a painful sub-.500 record that’s threatening to pounce them out of the playoffs very soon.

But unlike many other things in this extremely strange season, one thing missing is quickly identifiable, if not easily remedied. "It’s a little bit tougher, you know, not having Chili here, but we understand the circumstances," Davis said Monday.

Hitting coach Chili Davis, 60, made the understandable decision to work remotely this season due to COVID-19 concerns, but, in the process, has made his value noted, Luis Rojas said Tuesday. JD Davis, who had a breakout season last year, went from hitting .307 in 2019 to .254 this year, with his slugging percentage dropping to .401 from .527. His launch angle, heralded last season as one of the reasons for his newfound success, went from 10.6 degrees to 3.7 degrees according to Baseball Savant.

And though Rojas declined to say whether Alonso has also suffered due to the absence, the first baseman is hitting .202 this season, a year removed from the Rookie of the Year campaign where he hit .260 with 53 homers. He’s hit 12 in this shortened season and his slugging percentage dropped from .583 to .415.

"In the dugout, Chili is really valuable," Rojas said, adding that his hitting coach has done well communicating virtually. But in a new world where nothing is like it used to be, there’s still some adjusting – especially in what’s turned out to be a grueling 60-game rush that, for the Mets, has ended in more stumbles than victories.

"Chili will have that conversation with the guys as the game is going, so that’s one part we don’t have present," Rojas said. "JD, he’s a really smart hitter, so you can engage into a good conversation with him…he’ll make the adjustment that he needs to make, so I’m sure he could be missing that."

Wacha Wednesday

As expected, Steven Matz, who had a disastrous outing last time out, will be skipped on Wednesday and instead be sent to the bullpen. In his stead, righty Michael Wacha will start against Tyler Glasnow and the first-place Rays as the Mets try to hold on to a semblance of postseason hope.

Wacha (6.75 ERA) allowed one earned run over four innings in his last outing against the Phillies, with no walks and three strikeouts. The Rays’ have a lefty-heavy lineup and left-handers have hit .238 against him in his career, compared with .275 for righties.

The Mets chose Wacha because of how he "threw the ball the other day, his command, and his feel for pitches," Rojas. "He’s a reverse split guy, as you all know. I think his stuff is going to play well there. So, we feel pretty good about it and those guys can definitely come in and also help out. We’ll have a lot of availability from the pen."

Conforto improving

Michael Conforto (hamstring) has made significant progress and could be in the starting lineup as soon as Wednesday, Rojas said. "We just felt that another day would do even better for him so he can progress even more," Rojas said. Conforto has had a dominant season thus far, slashing .328/.419/.525 with 31 RBIs.

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