Sluggish defense proves costly in pivotal inning
TORONTO -- The line drive knuckled off Kevin Pillar's bat, flying directly toward Wilmer Flores in an unpredictable way. Caught off guard, Flores jumped, but didn't need to. He tried to adjust mid-flight as the ball glanced off his glove for a single. And then the floodgates opened.
Though the Mets committed only one defensive error in Thursday's 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays, manager Terry Collins diagnosed his team afterward with a general case of "sluggishness," much of it on defense. A problem throughout this season for the first-place Mets, it became as pronounced as ever this week at Rogers Centre.
"It adds up," Collins said. "We've just got to pick up the pace and pick up the energy level."
One batter after Flores was unable to catch the line drive that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play, Ryan Goins hit another potential double-play ball to first, where Lucas Duda fielded it and fired to Flores. The shortstop recorded one out at second, but fell to the dirt as Pillar slid wide of the base, upending him on the transfer.
"That's what he had to do," Flores said. "It's not like it was a dirty slide. He did what he had to do. It was a slow grounder, he's fast and he took me out."
Flores went on to blame most of Toronto's five-run rally on himself, though the Mets' defensive woes overall this year have hardly been exclusively his fault. One of the league's better-fielding teams last season, the Mets have been anything but in 2015. Over their first 67 games, they ranked 20th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved, a catch-all statistic designed to measure a club's overall defensive effectiveness. And nearly everyone has been a culprit at one point or another.
Perhaps most surprising, Collins said before the game, has been center fielder Juan Lagares. A year after winning his first National League Gold Glove Award with some truly standout play in center, Lagares came into Thursday's play ranking 65th in baseball with -1 DRS. That number means what it sounds like -- through more than 40 percent of the season, Lagares has statistically had a negative impact on defense.
Collins chalked it up to the right elbow that Lagares hyperextended late last season, going as far as to say that Tommy John surgery -- while not a realistic possibility right now -- could be the only long-term cure. At times this year, Lagares has been hesitant to throw, and advance scouts around the league have taken notice.
"The elbow injury is something that, yeah, for sure it's kept him from making the throws that he would normally make on a daily basis," Collins said. "We have asked him to be smart about when he really wants to let it loose. It's got to be a big situation. It's got to be a situation where he knows he's got to make a play."
As if on cue, Lagares declined to throw home on Pillar's run-scoring single in the second inning Thursday, also air-mailing second base to gift Pillar an extra bag. That resulted in the Blue Jays' first run in a game that quickly became a rout.
It is not something Collins hopes to see again.
"We've got to make a concerted effort to pick each other up a little bit better than we have," the manager said. "We need to reach down inside here and figure out a way to pick up the pace."