LOS ANGELES -- For the second time in as many games on Saturday, J.D. Davis found himself batting with the bases loaded and two outs in a winnable game. On Friday night, Davis had struck out in that spot to end the Mets’ most promising rally. The following afternoon, he jumped ahead in the count before running it even, with two balls and two strikes.
Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer responded with a middle-middle fastball over the heart of the plate, which Davis swung through to end the fifth inning of the Mets’ 4-3 loss at Dodger Stadium.
It was the Mets’ 24th defeat in their last 28 games against the Dodgers, not to mention their 17th in their last 23 contests this year. And it highlighted a particular area of concern for the team, which has been one of Major League Baseball’s worst at hitting with the bases loaded.
“In those times, it really comes down to the nitty-gritty, mano a mano, you against me,” said outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who homered, doubled and singled -- all with the bases empty -- to collect three of the Mets’ eight hits. “It really just comes down to execution.”
Davis’ strikeout dropped New York’s batting average in bases-loaded situations to .208, fifth-lowest in the Majors. He has personally been a significant part of that statistic, going 0-for-6 with six strikeouts in such opportunities. He’s also the only Major League player to strike out at least six times in bases-loaded situations without recording a hit.
“Sometimes, guys tend to get anxious,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “I use J.D. as an example with the bases loaded in that situation; he was trying to do too much. He was trying to gather [himself] a little bit too much. It caused him to be late on a fastball. That’s probably from a mental standpoint what happens, you just get a little anxious because you have the bases loaded. It’s a key situation. There’s an adrenaline rush, and sometimes you drift away from your approach of being aggressive in the zone, which is what we preach here.”
This has been a trend all year for the Mets, and particularly so in recent weeks, coinciding neatly with their steep tumble down the NL East standings. Early this season, the Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis because they wanted to streamline their organizational hitting approach. But the lineup has fared no better under replacement Hugh Quattlebaum, in bases-loaded situations or otherwise. Throughout August, Rojas has frequently criticized the Mets’ plate approach, questioning their readiness to hit fastballs like the one Scherzer threw Davis.
Bright spots and exceptions have been few and far between. Nimmo has consistently produced for the club, as has Pete Alonso, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning turned Saturday’s loss into a one-run game. But many other Mets hitters have struggled in high-leverage opportunities. Even Michael Conforto, who has recently emerged from a season-long slump, is 0-for-7 with the bases loaded.
“It shows again our lack of ability to drive in runs,” Rojas said. “It’s something that consistently, throughout the season, has been working against us. We have to be better than that, and I know we are better than that.”
Their opponents certainly have been. While the Mets are hitting .208 with the bases juiced, their pitchers are permitting hits at a .292 clip -- far higher than the .233 average they’ve allowed overall, which is normal given the danger of those situations. Rojas’ staff faced a single bases-loaded setup on Saturday, when Miguel Castro walked three consecutive batters to force in a run, before Jeurys Familia entered to strand three runners.
It wound up being the difference in the game.
“Those are turning points in games that you look back at and are huge situations,” Nimmo said. “But I don’t have an answer for, ‘Well, we have to do this better or that better.’ It really just comes down to the pitcher’s going to try and execute his plan the best that he can, and the hitter’s going to do the same, and then whoever executes better is going to win that battle.”