Mets first baseman Pete Alonso looks on after he lined...

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso looks on after he lined out against the Cubs during the sixth inning of an MLB game at Citi Field on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Mets announced before Thursday night’s game that Sandy Alderson is stepping down as team president into an advisory role, a “transition” already underway as the club has begun interviewing candidates to replace him.

Downstairs from the front office, however, the Mets had more pressing issues on the field, namely figuring how to snap their recent unsettling funk against teams (far) below .500. Alderson has fulfilled the job that second-year owner Steve Cohen hired him for, which was to help the hedge-fund titan steer the Mets through the early stages of his $2.4-billion purchase. He was not expected to stay on after his contract expired in December anyway..

But the people currently at the wheel, trying to get these Mets the NL East title followed by a deep run into October, have been spinning their tires a bit on a 5-7 slide through the NL’s bottom-feeders. The white-flag parade continued Thursday with the Pirates (55-88) showing up at Citi Field, and manager Buck Showalter did his best to lighten the mood during his pregame news conference.

When Showalter was informed of the luminaries on hand for Thursday’s Roberto Clemente Day festivities — Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado among them — the manager smiled. “Could use one of them at DH,” he said.

By the looks of both, even now in middle age, either of those two former Mets would be an upgrade over what Showalter has been getting lately from that spot. He went back to Daniel Vogelbach for Thursday’s series opener, despite him batting .119 (5-for-42) without an extra-base hit since he last went deep Aug. 22 at Yankee Stadium. That changed quickly Thursday night, as Vogelbach hit a two-run double in the first inning. 

It was interesting, however, that Showalter said he thought of using Francisco Lindor at DH instead but felt it was important to have him play the field on Clemente’s 50th anniversary celebration, definitely a meaningful consideration. Showalter's move paid off: Lindor blasted a two-run homer in the third. 

Bottom line, Lindor could use a breather, same with Alonso, as both had played in 143 of the Mets’ 144 games. But as things tighten up around the Mets, with missed opportunities to build a lead over Atlanta as the number of games shrink, it gets more difficult to the sit the twin engines of a sputtering lineup.

Who better to look to in times like these than the Mets’ two MVP candidates, who are still jockeying for their top 10 position on this year’s ballot? But Lindor mentioned during the weekend in Miami how players are “hitting a wall” at this late date and must figure a way over the metaphysical obstacle. As for Alonso, he’s homered in each of the last two games — equaling his output of the previous 16 — but did so with the bases empty.

When I used the term “scuffling” to describe the Mets’ recent offensive performance, Alonso disagreed with the perception. Over the past dozen games, as disappointing as the 5-7 record is, he’s not wrong, statistically speaking. Thanks to a few double-digit blowout wins, the Mets production is among the best in the majors during that span, hitting .271 (5th) with a .794 OPS (3rd). They’ve also averaged 4.58 runs.

The issue has been the bats’ disappearance in the losses, and the Mets scored a total of six runs in getting swept by the Cubs, whose 4.25 team ERA ranked 22nd in MLB. Having Starling Marte (broken finger) on the shelf has certainly hurt. But deploying a DH that’s dead-last in OPS (.283) and batting average (.105) over the last 12 games is killing them. The next worse in each category? The Reds with a .427 OPS and the Mariners with a .161 batting average.

“We haven’t put up as many runs as we’d like, but I wouldn’t say we’re scuffling,” Alonso said. “The objective is to score more runs than the other team, but I feel like we’ve put together a lot of quality at-bats. Sometimes you have to tip our cap to the other people on defense and the pitcher who’s executing pitches.

“This is the highest level, there’s no bad teams. There’s no Moon League, there’s no Mars League. This is it. We haven’t played our best, but I wouldn’t say we’ve played poorly or played badly.”

Alonso emphasized the Mets were still in first place Thursday afternoon, by a half-game over Atlanta, and believes this rough patch — regardless of the caliber of their opponent — will pay off in short-term as they eye October.

“If everything was easy, and things get hard in the postseason, then we wouldn’t be prepared,” Alonso said. “I think that facing challenges during the regular season really builds character and is going to help us during crunch time in the postseason.”

It’s just a matter of how the Mets arrive there, either as the NL East champ or a wild-card team facing a more arduous road to advance. Despite Alonso’s more optimistic view, they need to put this adversity in the rear-view mirror, as soon as possible.

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