WASHINGTON — As Wednesday night dipped into Thursday morning and the Mets landed at Kennedy Airport, they went their separate ways for a whole day — finally.
The start to their season has been something of a disaster. They are 5-8. No section of the roster has performed to expectations. Ten players are on the injured list. Yoenis Cespedes left the team.
Thursday represented a chance for a soft reset of sorts, or at least a brief recoup. It was the Mets’ first off day of the season after opening with 13 games in 13 days. And it is their only off day for the first half of this 60-game sprint.
“The boys,” J.D. Davis said, “are a little tired.”
The old Yogi-ism that it’s getting late early is especially true this year, with the one-quarter mark of the season coming Saturday. The greatest question facing the Mets: How do they turn it around? The short but complicated answer is to play better, and it applies to every corner of the team.
The lineup actually has been OK. The Mets are third in the majors in average (.261) and second in OBP (.350) — but just 20th in slugging percentage (.381), in part because of Pete Alonso’s slow start. What has been missing is the proverbial big hit. Those numbers drop to .218/.303/.306 when there are runners in scoring position, the most important at-bats in a game.
“We're not struggling to get guys on base, our average is kind of near the top,” Jeff McNeil said. “We've been on base, just not driving them in. We just gotta take better at-bats with runners in scoring position and get those one or two big hits that we need.”
Mets pitching has fared even worse. The rotation’s ERA is 4.71 ERA, which is middling. Starters not named Jacob deGrom combine for an uglier 5.63 ERA.
The bullpen, meanwhile, was a question mark coming into the season and remains one. Its 5.33 ERA ranks 24th. All of manager Luis Rojas’ late-inning options — including Seth Lugo, one of the best relievers in baseball the past two years — have flubbed it once or twice.
“Last year we kind of went through phases where our pitching was super good and our hitting wasn’t and our hitting was really great and our pitching wasn’t,” McNeil said. “So I think we all just need to click at the same time. And then we can go on a nice little run here.”
There are reasons — beyond the idea that the Mets aren’t playing to their true talent level — to believe a run is possible. Consider their slate to date, including a couple of variables beyond their control.
In addition to no days off, they also haven’t had any getaway day matinees — those sweet 1 p.m. starts that allow them to have dinner in the city they’re playing in next. Instead, they traveled after night games to Boston (by bus), to New York City (by bus), to Atlanta (by plane) and to Washington, D.C. (by plane).
It is not an excuse so much as it is part of the reality, a suboptimal quirk of the schedule (which will get a bit better in the coming weeks). Those wee-morning-hours arrivals add up.
“The travel’s been tough, so I think that’s going to lead to some injuries,” said McNeil, who has missed the past two games with a strained right intercostal.
Rojas didn’t buy into the injuries theory but added: “It’s been tough with the traveling, definitely. Night games and then traveling, getting to places at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. — it’s been rough. We’ve had to adjust the next day [with less sleep and/or less practice time].”
The Mets’ opponents are about to soften up, too. They play plenty of talented teams all season — hello, Subway Series the last two weekends in August — but 10 of their next 20 games are against the Marlins, beginning Friday at Citi Field.
Don’t look now, but Miami won its first three games after its weeklong coronavirus outbreak shutdown. It still is expected to be among the worst teams in the National League, however, and thus those series are chances for the Mets to fatten up their record — but, again, only if they play the way they believe they can.
“We’re not happy with the results. We’re a better team than what the standings show,” Steven Matz said. “But even though it’s a short season, there’s still a lot of time. We have the team, we have the lineup, we have the pitching to get it done. At the end of the day, the standings don’t show it, but I think we have a chance to still do something special. I believe that.”