by Paul West
The New York Mets have been on a rampage lately. Since July 25th, they lead the National League in runs, and they continue to churn out dominant pitching performances as they’ve taken control of the National League East. The Nationals continue to free-fall, and the Mets’ new acquisitions have given them the depth they need to back up their pitching staff and make a strong October push. Unfortunately, slugger Lucas Duda has missed the second half of this week with what was initially reported as back tightness and has been revealed to be a lumbar strain. This has engendered a great deal of concern, especially as the Mets haven’t got a good recent history with their reportage of players’ injuries. It’s become a running joke among fans and observers that a Met’s ailment will be reported as not much to worry about, only to be subsequently be revealed as quite serious–shortly after said player was seen playing through it while obviously compromised. David Wright’s shoulder injury from last season (and back, from previous seasons) headlines this issue, but Ryan Church’s multiple concussions to mind among a variety of other instances. The Mets cannot afford to make this mistake with Duda, especially as he’s still their primary lefthanded slugger and they now seem to be a letigimate postseason threat.
The Mets now have sufficient depth to cover Duda’s absence in the short term. Michael Conforto‘s addition allows Michael Cuddyer to play first base, while Juan Uribe‘s addition allows Daniel Murphy to do the same. With Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup, Duda is no longer the team’s only big-time everyday slugger and they no longer rely on only one or two bats to put runs on the board. Thus far, the Mets have only lost one game since Duda’s back troubles have kept him out of the lineup.
It isn’t as if the Mets don’t still need Duda in their lineup for to succeed down the stretch; in fact, the fact that they do need him down the stretch is the biggest reason not to rush him back now. Back problems, perhaps moreso than most other ailments, can linger if improperly treated and rested. They can also get suddenly worse. All baseball players (all athletes, in fact) require a strong core to succeed, but a power hitter like Duda will be especially compromised by a bad lower back. If he were an upper-body-swinger or slap-hitter, a lumbar strain would be less concerning. But if his back goes from tweaked to torched, the Mets’ postseason hopes may be torched, as well.
The Mets have turned the corner because of added depth and more run support for their pitching. But Lucas Duda remains an important centerpiece to this team, as currently constructed, and they will need him healthy if they want to win the National Least and challenge in the postseason.