“Strange,” is how Neil Walker described Wednesday’s excruciating 2-1 loss to the White Sox, a 13-inning lesson in futility so inept that we don’t expect to see anything quite like that again from the Mets in a very long time.
With one caveat, however. If the Mets’ roster remains as currently configured for any extended period, all bets are off. What some consider strange might actually become unbearably routine. And with this elite rotation, that would be a shame, as well as a serious threat to the Mets’ plan of repeating as National League champs.
Because Wednesday’s pathetic matinee at Citi Field was not some outlier, or freakish deviation. It was the continuation of a disturbing trend that dogged the Mets through the entire month of May, and the eventual byproduct of too many missing bats. Removing Lucas Duda, and David Wright, and even Travis d’Arnaud was not going to go unnoticed.
Just take a look at those May numbers. The Mets were 12th in the NL in OPS (.668), 13th in runs scored (87) and dead last in batting average (.211). The rival Nats were fourth (.758), fourth (133) and ninth (.251), respectively, in those categories. During that 14-15 stretch, the Mets lost two games in the standings.
Overall, the Mets are ranked 29th with a .212 batting average with runners in scoring position. Only the Yankees are worse (.210 entering Wednesday night).
So when Terry Collins chose to give Yoenis Cespedes a breather for Wednesday’s series finale, it shouldn’t have been surprising to see things actually get worse. James Loney, fresh from Triple-A El Paso, was the No. 5 hitter. Ty Kelly, somehow, already was making his fourth start at third base.
Kelly is a great story, a career minor-leaguer finally getting his shot at age 27. But batting .391 at Vegas isn’t translating to much in Flushing, and if that’s the best the Mets have out there in the desert, Sandy Alderson is going to be a very busy man during these two months leading up to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. What other choices are there? Promoting Dilson Herrera (.280 at Las Vegas) and shifting Walker to third? Another round of Eric Campbell when Wright goes on the DL?
It’s not like the Mets only have to tread water for a week or two waiting for their sluggers to return. Wright, after trying various anti-inflammatory treatments, was scheduled to see another doctor Wednesday for the herniated disc in his neck, but Collins had no clue when he might be available. Duda, at best, would be six weeks from now. With d’Arnaud only making slow progress from a rotator cuff strain, Collins isn’t putting much faith in him either. This group is going to have to figure out a way to push across a few runs until Alderson can find this year’s Cespedes trade, only for a corner infield position.
“You got to fight your way through it,” Collins said. “You’ve got to apply the things that are talked about in situational hitting, things that we work on every single day in batting practice.”
The Mets do have a few weapons. Cespedes and Walker already have combined for 28 homers at the lineup’s core, but Michael Conforto — who gave Bryce Harper a run for Player of the Month in April — looked like he was feeling the strain Wednesday in the No. 3 spot. Conforto went 0-for-6, with four strikeouts and hit into a double play as his average dropped nine points, to .252, in a single afternoon.
Conforto is a confident kid, and when he says “you just have to flush it and move on,” he’s got the head to to do just that. But Conforto also talked about chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone — unusual for him — and that’s the virus that creeps into a weakened roster. Wasting 13 walks. Stranding 14 overall. Not doing the little things to win a game like Wednesday’s. All the previous lineup depth has evaporated.
“Obviously we’re missing some guys, we’ve got some banged-up pieces,” Walker said. “But that doesn’t matter. We still have to collectively grind on a nightly basis.”
We’ll disagree with Walker here. It does matter. And the Mets are going to need more help, from somewhere, to fix it.