Mets’ timely hitting has helped the club surge into first place in the NL East despite rash of injuries


Here’s one of the key stats from the New York Mets’ 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday: 

So in what turned out to be a hotly contested one-run affair, Mets batsmen batted .385 with ducks upon pond. Without those clutch knocks, the Mets lose that game. That’s fitting because in large measure it’s timely hitting that has allowed the Mets to not only withstand but also thrive during their recent run of injuries. 

On May 3, the Mets placed third baseman J.D. Davis on the injured list. Two days later, outfielder Brandon Nimmo joined him. Then on May 11, it was ace Jacob deGrom. On May 12, reserve-turned-regular outfielder Albert Almora Jr. went down. From May 17 through May 21, six more core contributors — Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Taijuan Walker, Kevin Pillar, and Tommy Hunter — also succumbed to injury. 

At one point, the Mets had 17 players on the IL (!), and that’s not counting veteran infielder Robinson Cano, who’s serving a season-long suspension for a second positive PED test. Things aren’t quite so grim at the moment, as the Mets now have “just” 13 players on the IL, but it’s still been a costly run of carnage. Specifically, Baseball Prospectus estimates that the Mets have already lost more than four wins in the standings because of injuries thus far. That’s the highest figure in MLB. 

The somewhat perplexing backdrop to all this is that the Mets have thrived across the portion of the schedule that has coincided with all those injuries. At the close of play on May 3, when Davis landed on the IL to begin the cascade chronicled above, the Mets were one game below .500 at 11-12 and in second place in the NL East. Since then, however, Luis Rojas’ club has gone 16-9 despite playing 15 of those 25 games on the road. 

Obviously, Rojas was making do with a skeleton crew of a roster for much of that time, but nothing sums it up quite like the case of Cameron Maybin, whom the Mets acquired from the Cubs as a desperation stop-gap in the outfield. On May 15, Maybin was batting fifth for Iowa, the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate. Four days later, he was batting third for the Mets in a key game versus the reigning-division-champion Braves. 

So what allowed the Mets to barge to a four-game lead in the NL East at a time when they could barely field a team of major-league quality? Besides the ongoing sub-mediocrity of the rest of the division, we mean. It’s not the obvious broad-based answers, as the Mets grade out quite similarly in terms of team ERA and team slash line across those two segments of schedule. Instead, it’s timely hitting that’s made the difference. Have a look: 

Games

AVG/OBP/SLG with runners in scoring position

1-23

.209/.319/.286

24-49

.300/.386/.461

Additionally, the Mets through those first 23 games had 52 total bases with runners in scoring position. Since then — roughly an equal sample — they’ve racked up 83. As you can easily glean, that’s a huge difference across every level, and it’s driving the Mets’ current run of success.

History teaches us quite clearly that producing with RISP far over and above the usual skill level, whether team or individual, typically isn’t sustainable. However, the wins this production have created are in the books for good.

While the Mets will probably regress in clutch spots as we move on through the season, they’re likewise probably not going to reach the RISP depths that they wallowed in for the first month of the season. They’ll likely settle in somewhere between those two points, and they’ll probably also enjoy a boost once those lineup regulars get healthy and find their true levels. Guys like Francisco Lindor, Conforto, and Dominic Smith have in 2021 fallen well shy of their usual levels of production, and horse sense says they’ll probably ramp it up at some point. 

Injuries remain a worry, of course, and that’s especially the case with Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco, who have yet to throw a pitch this season. For now, though, the Mets are beginning to emerge from a period of deep, roster-wide injury, and they’ve built a solid divisional lead while doing so. For the Mets and their fans, that’s very good news as we move toward the final two-thirds of the schedule. For the rest of the division, it’s a reminder that they failed to take advantage of a rival’s early challenges. 





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