'You've got to limit them': Defensive miscues trouble Mets

Severino's five strong innings not enough as Reds erupt with late rally

April 7th, 2024

CINCINNATI -- The game-tying run came on a 61.5-mph chopper that somehow found a hole. As Francisco Lindor raced to cover second base, Brett Baty made a move to his left, but not with enough speed or aggressiveness to stop Elly De La Cruz’s hit from trickling through the hole. One run scored. The go-ahead runner went from first to third without a throw.

Within moments, the Reds were leading, well on their way to a 9-6 win over the Mets.

Spencer Steer’s three-run homer wound up being the decisive blow, but to pin the loss on that would be to ignore the cavalcade of mistakes that came before it. A dropped ball in the outfield. Two defensive errors, five walks, a wild pitch and a balk. This was not crisp baseball. These were the sorts of indignities the Mets entered the season believing they’d be able to avoid.

“We are prepared,” Lindor said. “I guess it’s just one of those where the human element comes to play. You’ve just got to find a way to limit those.”

Much of the early-season story surrounding the Mets’ 2-6 record has revolved around their offensive woes. And while the Mets certainly have struggled in that regard, players do appear to be emerging slowly from their funks. (One notable exception is Lindor, who went 0-for-5 on Saturday to fall to 1-for-31 overall.)

New York’s defensive issues, however, have proven surprisingly pervasive. Entering the day, the Mets ranked in the bottom third of the Majors in two significant defensive metrics: Outs Above Average (-4, tied for 23rd in MLB) and Defensive Runs Saved (-4, tied for 24th). On the one hand, it can be important not to buy too much into those numbers, considering the amount of time it takes for defensive stats to stabilize. On the other, such metrics back up what’s been plain to see: the Mets are not playing solid defensive baseball.

That trend continued during Saturday’s loss. Although starting pitcher Luis Severino was far sharper in Cincinnati than during his season debut last week, he allowed a pair of runs in the second inning -- a rally that started when Tyrone Taylor took a circuitous route to a Jeimer Candelario fly ball, then slipped and fell on the lip of the warning track as he tried to adjust. Two batters later, Jeff McNeil committed a fielding error to send Candelario home. Severino later walked in a run.

That was mere prelude to what happened in the sixth. After Jake Diekman put runners on the corners on a two-out walk, a hit batsman and an RBI single, Stuart Fairchild broke for second base. Although catcher Omar Narváez briefly considered holding onto the ball, he instead fired to second, allowing Steer to steal home without a throw -- the league-leading 13th stolen base the Mets have allowed this season.

“I had a little thought to not throw to second, but I was already in the motion,” Narváez said.

“He probably should have eaten it there,” added manager Carlos Mendoza.

It didn’t help that the Mets were playing without four of their highest-leverage relievers, all of whom had endured heavy workloads in recent days. As a result, Mendoza leaned heavily on untested right-hander Yohan Ramírez, who threw a perfect seventh inning before imploding in the eighth. A leadoff walk, a wild pitch and De La Cruz’s check-swing hit brought home the tying run, before Steer’s three-run homer broke the game open. And that was that.

“We’ve just got to continue to work on it,” Mendoza said. “I’m not going to say [I’m] concerned, because we’re a pretty good defensive team. We’ve just got to do a better job of preventing runs in situations like this. We’ll get better.”

Perhaps the Mets will. All offseason, defense was a point of emphasis for president of baseball operations David Stearns, who brought in athletic players such as Taylor, Harrison Bader, Joey Wendle and Zack Short. But those signings have not prevented the Mets from being statistically one of MLB’s worst defensive teams.

It’s a puzzle they are trying to solve. During Spring Training, visitors to Port St. Lucie commented often on how frequently the Mets took full infield and outfield practice -- a habit that has continued into the regular season. But until the Mets can begin cutting down on their mistakes, questions will continue to follow them.

“Those are things that are going to happen -- you’ve just got to limit them,” Lindor said. “You have to find a way to limit them and not let it happen over and over.”