The last two games notwithstanding – a 2-1 loss and a 1-0 win, both vs. Philadelphia at home – the Mets’ offense has been generally robust this season. They haven’t clubbed teams to death, no. They don’t have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hitting back-to-back in a hitters-favorable ballpark, no. They have been opportunistic, adept at putting the ball in play and – while I don’t have any statistics to back this up – beating the shifts an inordinate number of times, proportionally. There are some who have called it a result of blind luck and bad umpiring. There may be a kernel of truth to the “luck” part of it – per baseball-reference.com, the Mets collectively have a BABIP of .303 at the moment, probably not sustainable. What they do have is Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso hitting back-to-back in a basically neutral ballpark. Lindor is enjoying a very nice bounce-back season, making sure he goes down in Mets annals as more a Carlos Beltran than a George Foster, while Alonso is defying his reputation as little more than a hulking slugger. Supplementing those two with the likes of Mark Canha, Jeff McNeil, Starling Marte and new folk hero Daniel Vogelbach has geared the Mets’ offense to a state that challenges definition. They’re the type of offense that doesn’t give away an at-bat, that stresses contact, above all else. It might be called “relentless.”
And where have we heard that before?
The Mets saw this type of offense up close and painfully personal a mere seven years ago. It is exactly how the Kansas City Royals defeated the Mets in five games in the 2015 World Series. Going in, people were wondering how the Royals could possibly stand up against the four flamethrowers the Mets would put on the hill. It was thought that the combination of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard would have the KC batters touching nothing but air. Turns out that there was further research necessary: the Royals weren’t that type of team. It seemed that anything within the confines of the strike zone was touched, be it a foul ball, a hard out or – more often than not – a “harmless” single, which would lead to a run at some point in an inning. It was the hurlers who were baffled. We’ve seen how deGrom has been beyond dominant since his return from the injured list this year, right? Well, back in ’15, he had absolutely no answer for the Kansas City attack, surrendering six hits and four runs in five innings in his lone World Series start. The number that sticks out, though is that he only struck out two of the 25 batters he faced. That was the key: the Mets had a strikeout staff and couldn’t beat a team that never struck out.
It seems that new batting coach Eric Chavez has embraced that same philosophy. As a team, the Mets have struck out 860 times, through 114 games. MLB average is 949 and only Cleveland, Houston and Washington have struck out fewer times. These are not the slugging-at-all-costs or defense-be-damned Mets of the early Sandy Alderson era. There isn’t much thought given to launch angle or exit velocity. Oh, they are noted, to be sure, but they are not the be-all-end-all that they are to some teams – Atlanta and the Yankees come to mind. The popular term is “small ball,” but it isn’t just that. It’s not that the Mets lack power – Lindor and Alonso are both in the top five in the NL in RBI and Alonso is third in homeruns. It’s the blend of the two that’s getting rave notices. That balanced attack. But it all comes down to those individual at-bats and the number of pitches seen therein. How many times do we hear Gary Cohen say, “Tenth pitch of the at-bat coming to Brandon Nimmo?” It’s not just Nimmo – who has a reputation for being an on-base machine – but up and down the lineup are guys who are judicious in their pitch selection, who have a “good eye” at the plate and the ability to foul off a “pitcher’s pitch.” We’ve talked all year about this being a “special” year for the Mets. This sustained period of plate discipline has gone a long way toward that end.
Of course, having Max Scherzer and a healthy deGrom in the pitching rotation helps, too.