If you watched Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins you saw something the Mets had not done in ages. No Zack Wheeler did not pitch a No-Hitter, but he did have a good outing in which he scattered eight hits and a walk perfectly across eight innings; allowing two to reach base in only one inning. The unprecedented accomplishment done by the Mets was merely that they looked like a real major league team fielding in the infield, and specifically up the middle.
Adeiny Hechavarria and Luis Guillorme put on a clinic as Wheeler forced groundball after groundball. A total of 18 outs were recorded in the game due to groundballs thanks in part to three double plays. Groundballs made up 75% of the Marlins’ contact. With base runners in every inning, Wheeler and the Mets were able to not allow any runs in part to some fantastic infield defense.
Now Mets fans know middle infield defense has not been this team’s strong suit in decades, and especially not this year with their two main middle infielders, Amed Rosario and Robinson Cano, contributing a combined -19 Defensive Runs Saved per Fangraphs. Funny enough the duo has committed exactly that many errors on the season as well. While Rosario’s defense has noticeably improved as of late, this has been an ongoing issue for years on this team.
Everyone remembers the Rueben Tejada and Daniel Murphy years where there was a depressing lack of range, and every double play ball made you hold your breath. Mixed in there was the aging Asdrubal Cabrera who was never a highly-esteemed fielder, as well as Wilmer Flores playing everyday shortstop for a time. 2010 was probably the last time the Mets had solid infield defense with Ike Davis, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. However, just the year before Reyes was hurt, Murphy was playing first, and Castillo infamously dropped a popup in a subway series. I apologize for bringing this up, but it serves to drive the point home.
What was shown Tuesday night seemed to defy the laws of Mets baseball. The steadiness of Hechavarria combined with the quick hands of Guillorme, even though they overturned the neighborhood rule on one play, make for an impressive double play combination. This is something that the Mets need when they have groundball pitchers on the mound, and really maybe any pitcher.
The formula going forward may be as follows: expect great starting pitching, have the big bats hit a couple of solo home runs, have good defenders at every other position, and pray the bullpen can hold it down. Obviously, each game is unique, but it is hard to imagine the Mets celebrating much success if they are a team built on pitching that cannot field. As much as fielding is overlooked in sabermetrics, it is hard to not see the mental drain errors have on both a pitcher and the team as a whole.
The Mets still committed nine errors in the 14 games of their recent hot streak. That matches their season pace of errors per game. They simply cannot afford these mistakes against the Nationals, Braves, and other stronger squads they play in the upcoming weeks. While Hechavarria and Guillorme cannot hit, one of them needs to be in the infield every day and maybe even both if Rosario cools. Hopefully we see more games like Tuesday throughout the rest of this month and into September. Perhaps if we do, we’ll even see some in October.