CINCINNATI -- For weeks, Mets general manager Zack Scott has classified starting pitching as a more pressing need for the Mets than offensive help. And while that won’t necessarily preclude the Mets from acquiring a big-splash hitter such as Kris Bryant before the July 30 Trade Deadline, the Mets would prefer to spend their limited prospect resources elsewhere.
It’s a viable strategy only if the club’s incumbent hitters consistently perform the way Scott and his lieutenants have always believed they can. To that end, the Mets hit three more homers -- including a Dominic Smith grand slam -- in their 7-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday, scoring seven-plus runs for the fourth time in their last five games.
“It’s amazing -- all the bats are coming around now,” said infielder Luis Guillorme, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth. “As you saw the past few games here, we did exactly what we were supposed to do.”
Before the All-Star break, the Mets ranked 29th in the Majors with 3.72 runs per game. Since, they’re fifth in the league with an average of 6.67 runs per game.
That may be too small a sample size from which to draw meaningful conclusions, considering the break ended less than a week ago. But it’s nonetheless telling, given that Mets officials have long foreseen this type of renaissance. With every member of their Opening Day lineup healthy outside of Francisco Lindor, the Mets have broken out offensively, as evidenced Wednesday by homers from Smith, Guillorme and Jonathan Villar.
The outburst was more than enough for Marcus Stroman, who delivered eight shutout innings of one-hit ball to give a beleaguered pitching staff some much-needed length.
“As an offense, we know that it’s a long year,” Smith said. “We’re going to go through our ups and downs. We just tried to stay consistent with our routines and our preparation, and just tried to chip away every day. We knew eventually, we’d break out.”
When the Mets dismissed hitting coach Chili Davis earlier this season, team officials took criticism for pinning the lineup’s troubles on him, rather than on the fact that injuries were ravaging the offensive unit. For the better part of two months, the Mets played without Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis. In their absence, other players such as Lindor and James McCann slumped. How much of that was due to a lack of protection in the lineup isn’t entirely clear, but it stood to reason that once the Mets grew healthier, their offense would improve.
The final puzzle piece snapped back into place last Friday, when Davis returned from the IL. And although Lindor suffered an injury shortly thereafter, the Mets are at least now operating at something close to full strength. Nimmo, who singled to spark the grand-slam rally in the third inning, is reaching base at a .417 clip since returning from his own injury. McNeil, who followed Nimmo’s single with one of his own, is riding an 11-game hitting streak. Pete Alonso has mashed since winning the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, while Michael Conforto, who homered twice in the Mets’ series victory over the Reds, is consistently striking the ball with authority.
In short, the Mets are looking more and more like an offense that, on paper, figured to be one of the National League’s best heading into the season.
“What we want now is to keep that consistency going,” manager Luis Rojas said.
If the Mets can prove that, it should give the front office pause heading into the July 30 Trade Deadline. Although the Mets were always unlikely to spend significant prospect capital on a two-month rental such as Bryant, desperation does funny things to a team during trade season -- look no further than the Mets’ out-of-character acquisition of Yoenis Céspedes in 2015 as proof.
But a few more days of production like this could firm up the Mets’ plans to focus on pitching, instead.
For the first time in a long time, the Mets might be comfortable with their offense as is.
“We believe in this lineup,” Smith said. “We don’t care about what our numbers say. We know we can do damage at any time.”