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Mets on path to small-ball success

Manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets

Manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets during practice at Citi Field. (July 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

ST. LOUIS -- Is the "Moneyball" approach paying off for the Mets?

In some respects, the answer to that question is yes, as they have climbed to the top of the National League in targeted offensive categories such as walks and on-base percentage.

For that, Terry Collins and hitting coach Dave Hudgens have to consider this season a success. They began spring training with a mission statement of turning the Mets into a Moneyball-type operation (excuse the $143-million payroll) and accomplished that feat in the batter's box if not the balance sheet.

The Mets' .335 on-base percentage entering Tuesday night was second only to the Cardinals (.338) in the NL and ranked sixth in the majors. The others are teams that already have clinched a postseason spot, such as the Tigers, or are closing in on a playoff berth, such as the Yankees and Rangers.

So why are the Mets the odd team out? There's a myriad of reasons, including a staff ERA (4.15) that ranks 12th in the NL and a combustible bullpen. But the Mets, despite the traffic on the basepaths, believe they could be better at capitalizing on those opportunities.

The Mets stranded 13 runners in Tuesday night's 11-6 loss to the Cardinals, bringing their total to 86 in their last eight games. Mike Pelfrey, who failed to hold a 4-0 lead, allowed 10 hits and five runs in six innings and St. Louis later scored six runs in the seventh off Tim Byrdak and D.J. Carrasco to ice the win.

Angel Pagan went 3-for-4 in his return to the lineup and drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded to briefly give the Mets a 6-5 lead in the seventh. But Byrdak gave up a two-run double to Ryan Theriot and Adron Chambers followed with a bases-clearing triple off Carrasco.

Overall, the Mets are leading the majors with 1,204 left on base for the season. Even so, their .264 average with runners in scoring position heading into Monday night was third in the NL, behind only the Cardinals (.288) and Phillies (.267).

"Obviously, our whole goal is to get guys on, that's the bright side," Collins said. "The dark side is that we're not driving them in. It's not one guy. We've got to spread it through the lineup.''

It didn't help that the Mets were forced to endure long stretches this season without their top run producers in the lineup. Ike Davis was lost for the season after his May 10 collision with David Wright, Wright missed nine weeks because of a fractured back and Carlos Beltran was traded July 28.

Those types of players are game-changers, and though the Mets are often setting the table, cleaning it up is another story.

"We're not really built for that," Wright said of power displays. "We've got to click by getting on base, moving guys over, getting them in -- playing kind of small ball.''

As constructed, the Mets must rely on Wright and Jason Bay to do a majority of the runproducing, a burden that will be shared by Davis when he returns in 2012.

Said Hudgens: "We don't hit a ton of homers, so we have to get a lot of hits to score runs. Part of that is luck. Hitting line drives right at people, stuff like that. But they've pretty much had a good approach all year."

New York Sports