Pete Alonso called it a test and Brandon Nimmo called it “huge”. Buck Showalter went as far as to say it was going to be a “big challenge.”
What this West Coast trip really is for these Mets, especially this early in the season, is a slog.
The Mets will play 10 games in 10 days against the Athletics, Dodgers and Giants — lowlighting a grueling April that will see them on the road for 15 games — and they’ll do so while quite obviously still getting their footing.
Going into Thursday’s off day, they were toward the bottom in baseball in hits (26th), average (28th) and slugging (25th). Injuries have meant relying heavily on Tylor Megill and David Peterson — so-called sixth and seventh starters that have instead spent years being the tallest insurance policies in baseball. Carlos Carrasco hasn’t been himself, and to a much lesser extent, Max Scherzer hasn’t been quite as dominant as the Mets hoped.
In all that, though, there’s the belief that a strong road trip could go a long way in assuaging some pressing concerns.
Justin Verlander, who’ll be down in Port St. Lucie rehabbing his strained shoulder during the trip, said he expected to pitch this month. David Robertson and Adam Ottavino have quietly stepped into the massive hole left by Edwin Diaz’s injury and have acquitted themselves well.
Alonso leads all of baseball with six home runs, and Nimmo has a .431 on-base percentage, with 12 walks, second only to the Dodgers’ Miguel Vargas. Never a base-stealer, Nimmo has nonetheless benefitted hugely from the new pickoff rules and has already matched last year’s total with three stolen bases (if Nimmo sprinting to first on a walk regularly turns into Nimmo sprinting to second on a stolen base, he could be one of baseball’s most sneakily dangerous hitters).
It’s not really how anyone drew it up — having Diaz, Omar Narvaez and Jose Quintana down for extended periods — and certainly, a 7-6 start is far from ideal, but Showalter believes his team has already established an identity that can serve them well.
“I think we’re already there,” Showalter said when asked if this trip could help bond this team further. “We’ve got a lot of people who played together last year and then new guys that fit in very quickly.”
Of course, a lot of the issues with last year’s lineup remain, and despite taking two of three from the Padres, there’s still been gaps in their situational hitting. Their .214 average with runners in scoring position is fourth-worst in baseball, and they’re relying heavily on Alonso, who leads the team with 12 RBIs (Francisco Lindor, also having a strong start to his year, has eight). Granted, their batting average on balls put in play is worst in baseball, at .249.
“We’re going to get better as the season goes on,” Alonso said. “I feel like this is going to be a good test for us — not results-wise, but for character, see how we handle some adversity, whether it’s traveling out there and also the time change. There’s a ton of external factors, but I feel like this is going to be a really good marker for where we’re at regarding our team character. And I feel like if we play good team ball out there, that’s really going to set the tone for the rest of the year.”