Even with Jacob deGrom’s supernatural powers, it’s probably not ideal for the Mets as a whole that their ace also is the team leader in OPS (1.182) through the first 18 games of this season.
We’ve grown accustomed to deGrom having to do everything but mow the grass on his turn to pitch, but this is getting ridiculous. And if it’s any consolation, maybe the Mets got their offensive futility out of the way a day early — ahead of deGrom’s scheduled start — in Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.
That better be the case. Otherwise, Citi Field is going to be a very uncomfortable place for a number of Mets not living up to expectations at the plate, most notably, the $341 million shortstop, Francisco Lindor. After his fourth weak grounder Tuesday night — one tapper he actually managed to beat out for an infield hit — Lindor was booed loudly by the crowd of 7,917.
Lindor isn’t the only one at fault. But when you’re being paid that much and producing just slightly more than one of Steve Cohen’s multimillion-dollar sculptures, the warm welcome cools quickly in Flushing. Just ask Carlos Beltran, who also was booed during the first season of his seven-year, $119 million deal.
As for Lindor, he’s here for 11 years, and hitting .212 with three RBIs — fewer than Andres Gimenez, the shortstop he replaced — makes for a rough intro in Metsville.
"It’s our fan base, being as passionate as they are, wanting us to perform better to win games," Luis Rojas said afterward. "I’m sure it’s not the last time we’ll hear a reaction from our fans just because of that. We’re here for them and we know they’re supporting us."
I’m not sure if tough love is the right way to frame what was filling the air Tuesday night at Citi Field. Frustration, disappointment, anger. Probably all of the same feelings that were present in the Mets’ dugout as they were being dominated by Sox starter Garrett Richards, who used them to trim his ERA from 6.48 to 4.94 and more than double his season high in strikeouts with 10 (Pete Alonso had the golden sombrero with four Ks).
The Mets’ only hit with a runner in scoring position (1-for-3) failed to get Michael Conforto in from second base but actually raised their average in those situations to .193, which is still dead-last in the majors. Jeff McNeil was responsible for the Mets’ lone run, blasting a first-pitch fastball into the rightfield seats in the second inning, but he also whiffed to strand two in the fourth. When asked if it was surprising that a Mets lineup with so many quality bats was so bad in RBI situations, McNeil sort of agreed.
"Maybe a little bit," McNeil said. "Hitting is very hard. We just need to kind of control what we can control."
Things were bad enough on the offensive front before Tuesday, but evidently still had room to get worse when Brandon Nimmo was sidelined with what the Mets described as a "mild" hip impingement, a condition that began to bother him after the team returned from Chicago last week. Nimmo pinch hit in the seventh, just in time to be Richards’ 10th-strikeout victim.
For Tuesday, the Mets had little choice but to shuffle the names again, most notably batting Lindor leadoff for the first time this season and giving Dominic Smith his ’21 debut at the No. 2 spot. Though it’s not unusual to move up slumping bats for better protection around them, switching those two in tandem was a bold strategy.
Smith doesn’t have the same contract pressure as Lindor, but he’s trying to build on a breakthrough 2020 season, and that hasn’t been automatic. His two homers are tied with Davis for second on the team behind Alonso (five) but Smith, who went 0-for-4 Tuesday night, only has one extra-base hit (double) and two RBIs in the 43 plate appearances since he last went deep on April 13.
Conforto’s double with two outs in the fourth inning was the result of an excuse-me check-swing that slapped the ball through the shift-vacated left side of the infield. Davis followed with a single to leftfield, but it was struck too hard for Conforto to score. The Mets weren’t so cautious in the fifth inning when James McCann chose to test J.D. Martinez — the full-time DH playing leftfield due to NL rules — and made the first out when he was gunned down stretching for a double. A classic symptom of a pressing team not knowing when — or even if — the next hit would come.
"We’ve just got to battle and grind and do anything we can to scrape up a few runs," McNeil said.
A few more hits, from a few other people, would help, too. DeGrom only swings a bat a handful of times each week.