Jeff McNeil was doing what the Mets do best Monday when his fourth-inning romp around the bases also ended his role in their 6-0 victory over the Marlins.
McNeil is emblematic of Buck Showalter’s don’t-call-it-small-ball attack, the offense that leads the majors in total runs with 348 but has only 62 homers, tied for 18th overall. And this was McNeil’s track to the plate in the fourth: one-out double, take third on Eduardo Escobar’s sacrifice fly (more on that later) and then score on a wild pitch.
The only problem with scoring via a series of 90-foot sprints? For someone like McNeil, who has a history of leg issues, that resourceful aggression can lead to what happened Monday — hobbling off the field after dashing to the plate, due to what was later diagnosed by the Mets as a tight right hamstring.
The severity of McNeil’s injury wasn’t immediately known after the win, the Mets’ 11th shutout (tied for tops with the Yankees) and 13th victory in their last 15 games. It also helped the Mets keep their 5 1/2-game cushion in the NL East after Atlanta defeated the Giants Monday night.
Obviously, losing McNeil for any length of time is a tough blow — he was headed for a postgame MRI as the Mets crossed their fingers — but Showalter & Co. have shown the ability to plug some holes. Luis Guillorme has added a surprisingly potent bat to his defensive wizardry at second base and Mark Canha can get the extra reps in leftfield, so there’s coverage. It’s just a matter of keeping this run-machine going if McNeil, the All-Star engine, needs a few days (or longer) in the shop.
“We talked about being careful,” Showalter said. “We’ll see.”
McNeil leads the Mets in batting average (.327) and on-base percentage (.386). He’s also hitting .404 with runners in scoring position, tops on team as well. So how do you make up for that? Just continuing to play like the Mets have all season, as they did Monday, scoring six runs with only two extra-base hits, which were a pair of doubles.
The pessimist might look at the Mets’ first inning and moan about scoring only one run after Brandon Nimmo’s leadoff double and then loading the bases with none out. But they got to that point because Marlins starter Trevor Rogers bobbled Starling Marte’s grounder for an error (defensive pressure?) and Francisco Lindor reached on an infield hit.
As deflating as Pete Alonso’s following strikeout was, Canha worked a full-count walk by staying off a low fastball to force in the first run. Turns out, that’s all the Mets needed, but they added a pair of sacrifice flies, a run on the wild pitch and the only run-scoring hit all day was Escobar’s two-run single in the eighth inning. The Mets didn’t need that nearly as much as Escobar, who snapped an 0-for-23 skid, and already had done plenty of damage with their heads-up, station-to-station approach.
“I think you see veteran guys that are capable of doing the little things that amount to a lot by the end of the game,” said Nimmo, who had three hits and scored twice. “If they give you that inch, take it. If they give you that mile, take it.”
The Mets do have Alonso, the two-time defending Home Run Derby champ who currently sits atop the NL (and third overall) with 19 homers, so this isn’t entirely a dink-and-dunk operation. But the key is their knack for putting traffic on the basepaths with an MLB-best .334 OBP and success at getting them around, hitting .286 with RISP, also tops in the sport.
Another good indicator: the Mets now have 27 sacrifice flies, tied with the Giants for most in the majors. Last year they had 23 — for the entire season.
“We just have guys up and down the lineup with different skill sets,” said Canha, brought to Flushing this offseason for his situational-hitting talent. “We find different ways to be productive.”
Obviously the formula is working. The Mets went 2-for-10 with RISP, stranding nine, and still cruised to an easy win, if not a painful one with McNeil limping back to the dugout and Davis needing X-rays after getting plunked on the hand. McNeil may be the maestro of this approach, but he’s got plenty of company, whatever you want to label the mindset of this group.
“What’s small about it — 360 feet is 360 feet,” Showalter said. “You watch batting practice, our guys can hit home runs. Pitchers don’t always let you. Maybe we can come up with another word than small-ball. Opportunistic? You guys are good with words. Whaddya got?”
Buck-Ball seems to fit. Let’s just go with that for now.