If Starling Marte isn’t operating at full capacity, then chances are neither is the Mets’ offense, and both seemed to be a little off heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Nationals.
What followed was more of the disturbing same, with one exception. The previously skidding Marte was responsible for the Mets’ solitary run, thanks to his third-inning RBI single in the 4-1 loss before a befuddled crowd of 20,191 at Citi Field.
Otherwise, Marte chipped in with two of the team’s 15 strikeouts, bringing the Mets’ grand total to 28 for the past two nights and extending their losing streak to four games, the longest since September 2021. Also, Marte’s lonely RBI -- just his second in nine games dating to April 15 -- was the Mets only run in their past 21 innings, going back to Francisco Alvarez’s solo homer Sunday night in San Francisco.
“There’s an ebb and flow to seasons,” manager Buck Showalter said afterward. “The last couple games it hasn’t been a good flow for us.”
For Marte, he’s been struggling since crashing his head into the knee of the Marlins’ Jean Segura on an April 9 stolen-base attempt. In Tuesday’s 5-0 loss, Marte just didn’t look right, taking awkward, almost defensive hacks. He wasn’t alone, of course. The entire team appeared to be suffering from a West Coast hangover, despite going 7-3 on trip, and seemed to be sleepwalking on both sides of the ball.
That alarming trend continued Wednesday, and despite Marte supplying nearly all of the Mets’ offensive production, he also came up short on two other occasions. Marte stranded three runners in scoring position and four overall -- striking out both times -- with the Mets spreading the futility around.
In Marte’s case, however, he’s been dealing with the lingering effects of a neck strain, suffered in that Segura collision, so I asked him before Wednesday’s game if the injury was still holding him back to some degree.
Not one to make excuses, Marte sounded reluctant to go there, but he didn’t entirely dismiss the notion. That would explain a lot.
“My neck feels better,” Marte told Newsday through an interpreter. “It’s almost fully recovered. But I think it’s just working on my mechanics -- that’s really the biggest thing for me.”
It’s worth noting that Marte didn’t say he’s fine or the neck is 100% -- his reply stopped short of that bar. Also, I wasn’t the only one who had that suspicion. Showalter saw pretty much the same thing Tuesday night and made sure to check on Marte postgame for an update on his physical condition.
“He just feels like he’s lost some tempo and rhythm at the plate,” Showalter said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll keep waiting. He’s always a game or two away from doing what he does.”
Peak Marte can be a game-wrecker, plain and simple. He was an All-Star last season in his first year with the Mets, batting .292 with 16 homers and an .814 OPS. And when Marte vanished for the remainder of the regular season due to a fractured finger on Sept. 10, so did the Mets’ offense, which never really returned -- even when he managed to come back for the Wild Card Series.
This month, the line of demarcation for Marte is fairly clear-cut. Obviously, we’re dealing in small sample sizes here. But a quick perusal of Marte’s output before smashing his head on April 9 compared to the period after suggests something is amiss.
The first 10 games, Marte was off to a decent start, hitting .303 (10-for-33) with three doubles, a homer, an .863 OPS and four stolen bases in five tries. Post-collision, Marte has slipped to .174 (8-for-46) with one double and a .462 OPS in the next 12 games, including 3-for-5 in stolen-base attempts.
“It’s one of those things that happens sometimes throughout a season,” Marte said. “Where you’re a little lost and you continue working on the same things you always have. Continue getting the reps and playing as hard as you possibly can.”
But Marte, at age 34, knows he has to be mindful on the throttle. September’s broken finger marked the eighth IL stint of his 12-year career, but Marte has fought through plenty of other ailments, including a groin condition midway through last season that limited him to being a spectator for the All-Star Game. Marte figured out how just how far he could push it in order to remain a lineup catalyst, and now it seems like he’s been feeling his way back from the neck issue.
With the Mets scoring a total of nine runs on a four-game losing streak heading into Wednesday night, Marte wasn’t about to take a seat. Whether that involves twisting the truth a bit about his health, only Marte knows the answer to that.
“At the end of the day, you just have to continue to go out there and continue playing because you can impact the game in different ways,” Marte said.
The Mets need Marte’s brand of impact, as soon as possible. Both are hoping he’s another day closer to providing it.