It’s hard to concentrate on anything other that Johan Santana’s no-hitter right now and it is an achievement that deserves every bit of attention it is receiving. But with two stories on the site already about it, I’d like to talk about another recent development that is big news for the Mets. And that’s the return of Lucas Duda’s home run stroke.
Duda delivered a home run in Santana’s masterpiece, giving him 4 HR in his last 23 ABs, a stretch covering seven games. The Mets are 5-2 in that stretch. Before the recent longball outburst, Duda went 77 ABs without a homer. In that stretch, which went from April 29th to May 24th, the Mets were 12-12.
Santana’s remarkable comeback from shoulder surgery has been a key item in the Mets’ surprising play in 2012. David Wright flirting with .400 has been a fun little ride and his return to form has been the other key storyline for the surprising start that the Mets have enjoyed in the first two months of the 2012 season.
But if the Mets hope to keep their hot start going, they will need to have production from Duda. This was probably a necessary thing anyway, but the pronounced struggles at the plate from Ike Davis – and to a lesser extent the complete lack of homers from Daniel Murphy – has only magnified the need for power from Duda.
In 2011, the Mets played their best baseball when Davis and Wright were on the DL and the team hit very few homers. The lineup put runners on base at a high rate, thanks to big efforts from Beltran, Reyes, and Murphy, and kept rallies alive by not striking out. While they missed the power of Davis and Wright, they compensated by not having hitters in the heart of the order strike out one-quarter of the time.
But the 2012 team has high strikeout guys in Davis, Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. And the lineup suffered a hit when Josh Thole went down and was replaced by guys with higher strikeout rates. And it is the increased strikeouts that make over the fence power a necessity in 2012 that it wasn’t a season ago, at least while Beltran and Murphy were in the lineup.
Now the club has Thole back and Duda hitting for power, we can hope for continued good things from the Mets. The team is 15-8 when Thole starts behind the plate and 5-1 in games when Duda homers.
Last year Duda did not hit his first homer until July 23rd. But he hit 10 HR in his final 185 at-bats of the season. Hopefully he is in the beginning of a prolonged homer binge. In his last 10 games, Duda is batting just .235. But the Mets are 7-3, thanks to his homers. It’s a tradeoff the Mets should be happy to make.