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After slow start to short season, Mets hoping to turn things around as they did a year ago

Mets rightfielder Michael Conforto returns to the dugout

Mets rightfielder Michael Conforto returns to the dugout after he strikes out looking during the third inning against the Nationals in an MLB game at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It wasn’t until the Mets’ situation looked its worst before they played their best a year ago. The team was 10 games under .500 after the first 90 contests, found a higher level of play and finished 10 games over .500.

Things were looking pretty dismal heading into Monday night’s game against Miami at Marlins Park. Their 4.3 runs per game ranked 12th of 15 in the National League. The team ERA of 5.10 was 11th. And the Mets were looking to catch some of that second-half magic from a year ago.

"It's a strange year, but I think we can all pull things from last year when we were playing at our best,” Michael Conforto said. “We have to enjoy ourselves, we have to have fun out there and that's [the] part of the year was when everything kind of melted away [in 2019]. There was the trade deadline, there was a lot of people saying our season was over and, you know, we just kind of got back to enjoying ourselves and having fun.

“It's one thing to say it. It's a lot more fun when you're scoring runs and you're getting big hits and the pitchers are throwing well.”

The Mets had 37 games left entering Monday night. In 2019 the team went 21-16 over their final 37. A finish like that would give them a .500 record at the conclusion of the regular season and – with the new expanded playoff format – would seem to put them in contention. But the Mets have yet to find any traction.

“I guess it's a number of things,” Conforto replied when asked a reason for that. “It can be a lack of situational hitting, a lack of consistency on the defensive side of the ball. We’re still getting our pitchers into a rhythm. Our starting guys, we’ve had some injuries. It’s been a mix of a few different things.

“But we’re only what (23) games in? And that is over a third of the season, but in baseball you have to kind of gradually get hot at some points of the year, so we’ve got to put it all together.”

There’s plenty of linkage in baseball, which is why some teams get hot. Players talk about hitting being contagious. Starting pitchers talk about trying to top each other. Relievers want to "feed off" one another.

But it can go the other way. When a team underperforms on one front, it can end up affecting it on another.

“I'll definitely say that’s something that we work on: to try to compartmentalize things in our game, to not bring a bad at-bat onto the bases with you, to shift your focus,” Conforto said. “I think sometimes it can bleed into other areas but we're a pretty disciplined team, and we can compartmentalize.

“The record is not what we want it to be so obviously I feel like we haven't performed at the level that we can. There's some work to be done there. But I do feel that we have a great team and the season's far from over.”

Two-thirds of a team’s games in this truncated season is the equivalent of a home stretch in any other. So the Mets will need to balance the patience to get rolling with the impending sense of urgency to start before it’s too late.

“I can't tell you for sure what it's going to take, but I can tell you that we're not going to panic, we’re not going to press – that doesn't lead to anything good,” Conforto said. “We're going to continue to go out there and compete and play as hard as we can and try to enjoy ourselves and have fun while we're doing it. Ultimately that'll lead us in the right direction.”

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