Mets winning in unexpected ways

by Paul West

The explosive turnaround of the New York Mets‘ offense is well documented. As of July 24th, they had lost three games in a row and were last in the National League in runs scored and home runs. Since then, they lead both leagues in home runs, and among the leaders in runs scored among other offensive stats. They’ve stretched their lead in the NL East to five and a half games, and they’re being more widely and seriously discussed as a legitimate October threat. But what’s most interesting about the Mets’ turnaround is not just that they’ve begun scoring in bunches or have taken control of the East, it’s the manner in which they’ve done so.

The Mets' recent surge includes contributions from sources some didn't expect.
The Mets’ recent surge includes contributions from sources some didn’t expect.

The Mets, instead of relying solely on newly acquired slugger Yoenis Cespedes for their power, have gotten run production from virtually every part of the lineup. In Colorado, when they scored fourteen runs in back-to-back games, Cespedes had three home runs in a game–but Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores were among many Mets to drive in runs. In their record-breaking outburst in Philadelphia, the Mets had seven different players hit home runs (only the ninth time that’s ever happened in an MLB game). In last night’s comeback victory, it was the struggling Michael Cuddyer whose pinch-hit single plated the winning run. Ruben Tejada has quietly produced key hits from the bottom of the order, in limited opportunities. Captain David Wright his a tape-measure home run in his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list. And as is now well known, the Mets’ pitching staff has hit well for most of the season–including last night, when Noah Syndergaard helped his own cause with an RBI double. The Mets have been an offensive powerhouse for a month, and over the past week their numbers have looked like those of a slow-pitch team. The past week’s production has even taken place without the services of Lucas Duda‘s enormous raw power, as Duda has been sidelined with a back injury.

The other counterintuitive element of the Mets’ recent run has been the fact that the opponents’ scores have recently ballooned, as well. While this points to the Mets’ balance and resilience, it’s also potentially a troubling sign. Syndergaard finally notched his first road win last night, but he struggled with the home run ball once again. Jacob deGrom had his worst-ever start the night before, a game in which the Mets trailed 7-2 before blowing up as has been their wont. Bartolo Colon hasn’t been right of late, and took a pitch off his throwing forearm in his last start. And despite continuing to convert save opportunities, Jeurys Familia has looked less invincible in the second half than he did in the first.

Fortunately for the Mets’ pitching staff, the last counterintuitive aspect of the team’s resurgence has been their much-improved defense. Since being moved from second base, Murphy has been adequate on the corners of the infield. Tejada has been reborn at shortstop, and Flores has looked much more comfortable at second while showing off his impressive arm strength. Cespedes can play all three outfield positions well, and has showed off a cannon of a throwing arm, and Conforto has shown a good arm of his own along with better-than-advertised range and speed.

The good news is that, barring injuries, the Mets’ pitching seems likely to re-stabilize somewhat soon. As for the offense, the slow-pitch numbers don’t seem likely to continue but the threat potential of the Mets’ newfangled lineup seems here to stay. And the defense should continue to look solid, between the new additions and Juan Lagares‘ seemingly improving health. What all this means is that this is the strongest and most balanced the Mets have looked in a long time, and the rest of Major League Baseball should continue to be on watch.

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