With two stars dim, Mets' uneven offense sticks out

April 27th, 2023

NEW YORK -- The last time the Mets lost four games in a row, Luis Rojas was the manager, Javier Báez was the starting second baseman and the payroll was about $170 million less than it is today.

In many ways, the Mets were in a far different place at the end of that five-game downturn, which assured them a losing record for the fourth time in five seasons. In other ways, they are still suffering from the same problems: Their pitching staff is riddled with injuries, and their lineup isn’t producing when it matters most. The Mets went quietly Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to the Nationals, leaving runners on base for six consecutive innings as , and finished a combined 0-for-12.

Consider: In the Mets’ 14 wins this season, they have homered 21 times and averaged 6.6 runs per game. In their 11 losses, they have hit five homers and averaged 1.8 runs per game.

“The last couple of games, it hasn’t been a good flow for us,” manager Buck Showalter said.

That sort of inconsistency is beginning to cost the Mets, who don’t possess enough healthy pitching depth to make up for it. Once again on Wednesday, the Mets received a start that was better defined by its brevity than its effectiveness, as threw 48 pitches over the first two innings and only stuck around long enough to deliver five innings of two-run ball. Once again, the Mets relied on their bullpen for a heavy load, though that was hardly their most pressing problem.

The issue was an offense that alternates between dynamism and feebleness.

Although Nationals starter MacKenzie Gore deserved plenty of credit for his six effective innings Monday, the Mets weren’t willing to put all the credit on him, since doing so would mean ignoring some telling trends within their lineup. Consider Lindor and Alonso, arguably the two most important hitters in Flushing:

Lindor: 0-for-4, 1 K
Lindor has had one of the more bizarre offensive seasons for the Mets, as 13 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases. He’s simply not making contact as often as he usually does, which has resulted in both a career-low batting average (.213) and the highest strikeout rate of his career. Before this season, Lindor had struck out in 15.3% of his career plate appearances. This year, he’s at 26.4%.

Lindor’s best chance to contribute occurred in the seventh inning, when he came to the plate with the tying runs on base and two outs. He swung at Hunter Harvey’s first pitch well outside the strike zone. He swung and missed at Harvey’s second pitch -- a pitcher’s pitch -- near the outside corner. Then he swung and missed at Harvey’s third pitch in the dirt.

“I’ll give him credit, but I sped up,” Lindor said. “It’s on me. I definitely had a chance to slow the at-bat, but I didn’t. I took three swings, and none of them were in the zone. As a professional, I’ve got to be better.”

Alonso: 0-for-4, 1 K
It’s difficult to blame Alonso for anything right now, considering the extent to which he has carried the Mets thus far in ‘23. But it’s worth noting just how reliant the team has become on him. Through 25 games, Alonso has hit 10 of the Mets’ 26 home runs (38.5%). The only other player responsible for at least a third of his team’s homers is Jeimer Candelario, who has hit four of the Nationals’ 12.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mets are 7-2 when Alonso goes deep. They are 7-9 when he does not. Over the team’s four-game losing streak, Alonso is 0-for-16 with six strikeouts.

“We can’t put it all on Pete,” Lindor said. “He’s doing great. He’s doing amazing. But me as a third-hole guy, I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be on base for him. I’ve got to make the pitcher uncomfortable when they pitch to him.”

It’s not solely up to Lindor, of course, or solely up to Alonso. The Mets will take a spark from anyone. But a quick resurgence from either of those two would do wonders.

After the game, as a group of reporters approached Lindor for an interview, he remarked that he hadn’t spoken in front of a scrum in a while.

“Yeah, it’s been a minute,” Lindor said ruefully, as the reporters crowded around him. “That’s what happens when you don’t hit."