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Mets' bats waiting for arms to sync up

@MikeLupica
April 29, 2019

The Mets came out of the weekend a half-game behind the Phillies in the National League East, where two games separate the top four teams. New York got a big win over Milwaukee on Sunday, avoided a sweep at home and got back above .500. The Mets have done what

The Mets came out of the weekend a half-game behind the Phillies in the National League East, where two games separate the top four teams. New York got a big win over Milwaukee on Sunday, avoided a sweep at home and got back above .500. The Mets have done what they’ve done so far with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, their two best starters, having won three games between them. Syndergaard is 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA and has given up 40 hits in 34 innings. They call him Thor. But it’s the hitters who’ve had the hammer.

“We have what other teams want,” new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said on a Spring Training afternoon in Jupiter, Fla. He was talking about his starters. Now the Mets have the worst team ERA in the NL, and they are 27th in MLB.

But the Mets can hit again. After chunks of last season during which they seemed to score less than a Premier League soccer team, and after a season in which even the Marlins had a higher team batting average than New York did at the end, the Mets are fun to watch again on offense.

They’re not mashing like the Brewers or the Dodgers. But they’ve got a hot kid named Pete Alonso who still has a chance to hit more home runs than any Met ever has before May 1 (nine and counting) and an old-school grinder like Jeff McNeil hitting .355. They have added Robinson Canó, who after a slow start -- and despite getting hit on the hand in the first inning Sunday -- is up to .270.

As important as all of them, as important to the Mets if he is blessed by a full season of good health, is Michael Conforto. We think of Alonso as a kid. He turns 25 in December. Conforto just turned 26 last month, and he is as essential a hitter to his team as Bryce Harper is to the Phillies this season.

Conforto has 6 homers, 13 RBIs, a .271 batting average, a .940 OPS and 21 walks in 27 games. He wasn’t in the starting lineup for the first time all season against lefty Gio Gonzalez on Sunday, but he still came off the bench to get two more walks. Harper so far? He’s got six homers, 20 RBIs, a .250 batting average and a .910 OPS. Nobody would suggest that Conforto is Harper. The Mets still don’t win the East without him being their most complete hitter, and that includes Cano.

Conforto came back last season from surgery in September 2017 for a torn posterior capsule in his left shoulder to knock 28 home runs and 82 RBIs with very little help around him in the Mets batting order. He did most of his damage in the second half of the season. His OPS was .720 through the All-Star break and .895 the rest of the way.

“I worked really hard during the offseason to make sure I stayed where I was at the end of last season,” Conforto, an All-Star in 2017, said Saturday. “I felt motivated to prove I was back to being the player I want to be. Now I’m confident I can be the player I was at the end of last season and in 2017. I just want to play every day and have an impact.”

Conforto was asked what kind of fun he is having in a batting order that includes Alonso and Cano, and what kind of difference the two of them have made.

“Huge,” Conforto said. “Our lineup looks a lot different [this season], especially with the impact Pete has had coming up and the fact that other teams have to respect his power. Then there’s Robbie, of course. Everybody knows what he can do, the way he can go line to line and the power he still has.

“But the best part,” Conforto continued, “is that it’s not just those two guys. It’s why pitchers have to throw me more strikes now and come into the zone.”

Conforto spoke about what catcher Wilson Ramos has added to the Mets' order and the plate discipline of Brandon Nimmo, up to .250 after his own slow start. And he spoke about McNeil, about whom Conforto said, “[He] hits ball all over the yard.”

Syndergaard got lit up by the Brewers Saturday night after the same thing happened to deGrom on Friday night, as deGrom returned to the rotation after what was described as a “barking” elbow. For now, deGrom is giving up three more runs a game than he did when he won the NL Cy Young Award last year.

But the Mets are more aggressive this season at the plate, and not just at the plate. It starts with Van Wagenen, who upon taking the GM job, said his team had “talent to win now.” Then he made the trade for Cano and closer Edwin Díaz, who is 8-for-8 in save opportunities through Sunday. On Sunday, Van Wagenen designated backup catcher Travis d'Arnaud, replaced him with Tomas Nido, then watched Nido get a huge hit to break open the game against the Brewers.

The Mets are waiting for their pitching to catch up with their hitting -- when was the last time we said that? -- and are hanging in there in the NL East.

“Been a lot of fun being in this batting order so far,” Conforto said. “Lot of work to do. Long way to go. But I think we’re in a good spot.”

A lot of it revolves around Conforto's spot in that order, as he tries to remind everybody he’s still a hot kid, too, with the Mets.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.