Look at Pete Alonso’s numbers lately, and the stat sheet paints a grim picture for the Polar Bear, bizarrely struggling through some kind of midsummer hibernation.
But the anguish isn’t restrained to inside the lines. Alonso doesn’t turn the page so easily, and for every loss that piles up for these Mets, he wears that disappointment like the No. 20 on his back. Relentlessly positive by nature, Alonso keeps envisioning a turnaround that has yet to materialize, then tries doubly hard to mask the snowballing dismay from a particular night’s failure.
“It just means I care,” Alonso told Newsday before Tuesday’s series opener against the White Sox at Citi Field. “It’s not coming from a place of negativity or anything like that. In the moment, it is what it is, and it can be very frustrating at times.”
The Mets narrowly avoided disaster with Tuesday night’s 11-10 victory over the White Sox, and despite the slugfest, Alonso was relatively quiet, going 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly in his first plate appearance. He’s not accustomed to merely playing a supporting role. And being the face of the franchise is an especially heavy burden to shoulder this year when the Mets are shaping up to be the most expensive fiasco in baseball history -- and Alonso is enduring the worst season of his career.
While his drastically sub-par performance has been camouflaged somewhat by the 26 home runs, fifth-most in the majors entering Tuesday, Alonso’s nosedive since May 30 is remarkably steep. During that 31-game span, Alonso’s .574 OPS ranks 162nd among the 171 qualified players and his .143 batting average is last.
Alonso insisted the sprain/bruised wrist he suffered June 7 from that Charlie Morton fastball isn’t the culprit. We think he’s downplayed the injury somewhat in his effort to get back on the field. But there’s a bit of bad luck involved. Over that same stretch, Alonso’s microscopic .132 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is also the lowest of those qualified players, suggesting that he’s missing the gaps and the other team’s defenders — even with the new shift ban — are being positioned very successfully against him.
“Just trust that the balls will eventually start falling and trust the law of averages,” Alonso said. “Because every year I’m always in the top percent of the league in exit velocity and my job is to capitalize on opportunities by hitting the ball hard forward. Unfortunately, I can’t make the ball find a seat or find grass all the time. The only thing I can do is keep trying to hit the ball hard and play consistently.
“If they don’t fall, that’s why people get paid a lot of money to prevent that from happening. This is the highest league, defenses are great and there’s a lot of advanced information out there. So unfortunately, I have to adjust.”
Simple word, adjust, for what is often a very complicated situation. But not as easy as it sounds. And, while Alonso may come off as baffled as the rest of us by what’s going on, he’s got way more at stake. Not only were the Mets sitting 8 1/2 games out of the third wild-card spot entering Tuesday, but from a personal perspective, Alonso becomes a free agent at the end of next season, which can fuel all kinds of speculation two weeks from the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
The Mets aren’t likely to entertain any trade conversations involving Alonso, and SNY reported they don’t plan to — owner Steve Cohen, in Year Three of his tenure, surely isn’t amenable to dealing the franchise’s most popular player, despite the fact he’d also net the biggest return among the players on the current roster. Taking all that into consideration, I asked Alonso before Tuesday’s game if anyone in the front office had given him assurances that he won’t be traded.
“No,” Alonso said. “I mean, there’s no need for them to say that. I just don’t think there’s any need.”
Not that Alonso is wasting any of his own mental bandwidth thinking about those scenarios. He’s locked into the task at hand, which to him is doing the heavy lifting necessary to dig the Mets out of this canyon-sized hole.
“Worrying about that stuff doesn’t do me or anybody else any good,” Alonso said. “We’re playing the White Sox [tonight] and worrying about where I’m going to be in the future or whatever, that doesn’t matter. The goal is to win today. I want to give the best performance I can for my teammates, and the staff, and the fans. And if we come out on top, that’s awesome.”
Alonso’s track record suggests he’ll get through this. As for the Mets, the odds aren’t so great, but they have zero chance without a bounce-back from their slugging first baseman. While they’re certainly anticipating that to happen, what the Mets have witnessed from Alonso during most of this season has been hard to watch, too.
“I think it’s as much of an emotional, mental thing,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Pete wants to do well so bad, sometimes you can’t slow it down a little bit ... I get to see it every day, up in the clubhouse, in the runway, in the dugout, it’s painful for us to see someone who’s been so good for so long go through it.”
For Alonso, that’s the only way out. To keep swinging.