Mets have company atop NL East after bats falter in 3rd straight loss

September 7th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- By the time Oneil Cruz punctuated the Pirates’ 8-2 win on Tuesday with a late home run into the Allegheny River, the Mets had already endured enough punishment at PNC Park. The truth is, Cruz’s home run -- memorable though it was -- didn’t matter much, because the Mets could not score enough to make it matter.

This was not an isolated incident. Over their last 13 games, the Mets have averaged 2.9 runs per game, placing them in the bottom five in the Majors over that stretch. And although this offense was never designed to blow out teams night after night, this recent cold snap has come at a most inopportune time: The Mets have lost three consecutive games to last-place clubs, falling flat during a stretch that seemed designed to help them pull away from the Braves in the National League East.

Instead the Mets left the ballpark on Tuesday on the cusp of losing sole possession of first place for the first time since early April. And a few hours later, the Braves defeated the A's in Oakland, grabbing a share of the top spot.

“We just haven’t been able to mount much offensively,” manager Buck Showalter said.

There is no singular culprit, no one hitter to blame. Up and down the lineup, concerns exist. Such as:

1. isn’t hitting

Two of the Mets’ most promising scoring chances on Tuesday unfolded early, as they put a pair of runners on base in both the first and third innings. On each occasion, Alonso bounced into a double play to end the rally.

With those twin killings on his ledger, Alonso sunk deeper into a slump that has vexed him since mid-August. The beating heart of New York’s offense during the first 100-plus games of the season, Alonso has seen his OPS drop 68 points over the last month. He’s hit just three home runs in his last 129 plate appearances after averaging one every 15.4 trips to the plate until that point. Over the past week, things have grown only worse, as Alonso has tumbled into a 2-for-25 funk.

It doesn’t help that No. 3 hitter is faring only marginally better, with a .167/.300/.190 slash line and one extra-base hit over his last 12 games. But the Mets rely so deeply on Alonso, their top power hitter and their most potent weapon late in games.

“He’s just wanting something too much,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to ever criticize him for that. Pete’s wanting to do everything for us, which he’s done pretty much the whole season. So that’s why it kind of sticks out. I feel for him, because he’s grinding like heck and working like you’d expect him to work. It just hasn’t happened for him.”

2. Neither are the team’s Trade Deadline acquisitions

Much ink was spilled in early August over the Mets’ deals for , and . Through Aug. 11, those three were batting a combined .348 with five home runs and 15 extra-base hits in 89 at-bats for their new team.

Since then, Vogelbach, Naquin and Ruf have batted .109 with two homers and six extra-base hits in 110 at-bats. Ruf is 1-for-24 with nine strikeouts in his last 11 games. Vogelbach has just one hit in 20 at-bats over his last nine games. Naquin is 3-for-33 with 17 strikeouts since his last home run.

The Mets declined to acquire a bigger-name hitter -- such as Willson Contreras, Trey Mancini or even Juan Soto -- at the Trade Deadline, believing in the bones of their platoon strategy. It worked once, and perhaps it will work again, but right now the lack of production from that trio is jarring.

3. can’t do it all

It’s worth noting that if Marte misses significant time due to the pitch that hit him on the right hand in the first inning, Naquin figures to receive the lion’s share of replacement at-bats -- further incentive for the Mets to fix what’s been ailing him. Marte has been one of the Mets’ few consistent hitters over the course of the season, posting an OPS no lower than .742 in any full month since April.

The Mets will know more about Marte’s status on Wednesday, but one thing is clear: They can ill afford an extended absence from one of their most productive hitters.

“Hopefully,” Marte said through an interpreter, "I can recover quickly.”