ATLANTA — Sandy Alderson, optimistic but exasperated, began the Mets’ last homestand with a reminder that, hey, maybe things weren’t so bad.
“We went 11-1 to start the season. We all remember that,” Alderson said May 31. “I bet nobody remembers we’re 8-8 in the last 16 — which, given everything that’s happened, is almost as incredible as the 11-1.”
Alderson ended the homestand from hell by watching his team win for the first time in a week and a half. In between, the Mets scored 13 runs in nine games, dropped eight in a row overall and seven straight after manager Mickey Callaway’s uncharacteristic team meeting, lost closer Jeurys Familia to shoulder soreness, received consistently dominant starting pitching, might have lost second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to a hamstring injury, had Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard suffer health setbacks, and saw reports that the organization was considering sending Michael Conforto to the minors and hoping Jose Reyes would retire so they wouldn’t have to cut him. The front office capped it off with a midnight roster retooling: cutting Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Lobaton, adding Dominic Smith and Ty Kelly.
And so it is under those circumstances that the Mets (28-34) embark on perhaps their most important road trip of the season to date: 10 games in 10 days in three cities against quality teams, the Braves, Diamondbacks and Rockies.
Mets officials were not available Monday to comment on the transactions or the state of the team.
“Thank God for today,” Todd Frazier said Sunday night. “Because this is a little stress off our shoulders.”
A little stress, but not all of it. The win against the Yankees carried the same markers as the eight preceding losses: quality pitching backed up by a minimal offense.
In the eyes of Mets decision-makers, the lack of hitting necessitated change. The options were limited after their already-thin organizational depth was lessened in recent weeks by injuries in New York and Las Vegas. Kelly, 29, is an upgrade over Lobaton defensively (able to play six positions) and offensively off the bench, but that swap is more of a tweak on the fringes of the roster.
Smith represents the greater shot at significant improvement, but it’s not clear that he will be better than Gonzalez. Gonzalez did not set the bar high; his .672 OPS was 39th among 46 first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances.
A year ago, Smith was a top-100 prospect in baseball at Triple-A Las Vegas. His stock has since dropped. After slashing .198/.262/.395 in 49 major-league games at the end of last season, Smith has experienced a curious decline in power this year. He slugged .370 and hit two homers in two months in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, well below his .519 mark before getting called up last year.
During a weekend cameo in the majors last month, Smith said he didn’t feel like he lost strength as a result of losing weight. He was down to 215 pounds from 250 at the end of last season.
Whatever the reason, the Mets seem to have little to lose by giving Smith another shot, both in terms of production in the immediate future and getting a better sense of the player Smith can be for the longer-term future.
They’ll start to figure it out Tuesday when — for the first time this month — the Mets will take the field with a June win on their record.
“Hopefully,” Reyes said, “this win is going to start something good for us.”
Notes & quotes: In the first All-Star voting update released Monday, only one Met was among the top five vote-getters at his position (or top 15 for outfielders): Cabrera, who was fourth among NL second basemen, about 300,000 votes behind leader Ozzie Albies of the Braves . . . Atlanta-area native Zack Wheeler will start in Atlanta Tuesday for the first time since 2014. He had starts at the Braves’ SunTrust Park washed out this year and in 2017.