SAN DIEGO — The Mets were leading the majors in an assortment of categories through Wednesday, including runs scored (299), hits (525), on-base percentage (.334) and batting average (.263).
Much to their dismay, they were also leading the majors in a far more painful category: hit batsmen. And as Manager Buck Showalter grimly assessed, before their series in San Diego concluded with a 13-2 loss to the Padres on Wednesday, “We ‘ve lengthened our lead.”
The Mets, who have the National League’s best record despite losing two of three to the Padres, will welcome Thursday’s lone off-day in a 10-game, 11-day romp through Southern California. Chief among the reasons is a day of healing for first baseman Pete Alonso (bruised right hand) and outfielder Starling Marte (sore left quadriceps), who hope to avoid the injured list but remain day-to-day ahead of a weekend series against the spiraling Los Angeles Angels.
In Alonso’s case, additional time off could be warranted. The National League’s leader in games, home runs and RBI said before Wednesday’s game that he hoped to avoid a repeat of the mistakes he had made in the past when trying to play through such an injury .Even if Alonso is out, this weekend sets up a continuing study in the vagaries of baseball. The Mets continue to lose key players — Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer — yet pile up wins. The Angels, despite the presence of two of the game’s most sensational players, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, are losing in record proportions.
On Tuesday, with the Angels buried under what was a 12-game losing streak at the time, the club fired Manager Joe Maddon. Under Phil Nevin, the team’s interim manager, the Angels promptly lost a 13th consecutive game, setting a franchise mark for Longest single-season losing streak. Trout left the game with a groin injury.
Trout, who is considered day-to-day, sat out of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Boston, which pushed their record losing streak to 14 games.
The 2022 MLB Season
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The contrast between the franchises is extreme, with the Mets flexing their resilience and proving the value of an expensive roster built on star power but also depth.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to not just the team but to Billy Eppler, too, in how he’s constructed the roster,” Mets outfielder Mark Canha said of the club’s first-year general manager, who was one of the many executives who took a turn trying to shore up the Angels. “We feel like we’re incredibly deep and we can count on any of our guys to jump in at a moment’s notice and do a good job.”
Eppler, who interviewed Showalter for the Angels’ manager job in 2019, struggled in five seasons in Anaheim despite plenty of marquee talent. In his first winter in Queens, he immediately tried to fix a weakness for his new team, landing in Canha and Eduardo Escobar a pair of versatile players who can hit and play multiple positions. The Mets signed those two, Marte and Scherzer in a November flurry before Major League Baseball’s lockout.
In March, Eppler tacked on more depth, trading for pitcher Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star with Oakland. That deal seemed almost superfluous at the time, with Scherzer and deGrom at the top of the team’s rotation, but it now seems prophetic, as the Mets have had at least one ace healthy all season.
Those moves — a luxury of a nearly unlimited payroll courtesy of the team’s owner, Steven A. Cohen — have helped fill the injury void and kept the Mets from extended slumps.
A few games against the failing Angels could help rinse out the bad taste left over from the Padres series for the Mets, who were greatly relieved Wednesday when imaging tests revealed no breaks or fractures for Alonso. He had left Tuesday’s game in the second inning when a 96-mile-per-hour sinker from Yu Darvish bore into the meaty area above his pinkie on a checked swing.
Alonso, whose absence on Wednesday ended a streak of 151 consecutive games played, has been hit by a pitch seven times this season. The Mets overall have been hit 40 times, six more than the Baltimore Orioles and seven more than the Seattle Mariners. No other team in the majors has had a player hit even 30 times this season.
“There’s not a message going around the league to hit the Mets,” said Joe Musgrove, a starter for San Diego who did not face them this week. “You’ve got to understand, as pitchers, our job is to control the zone on both sides of the plate. With how good that lineup is, you have to throw inside. If you have a fear that I’m going to hit someone, or he’s going to be pissed, or I’m going to be ejected, it’s not going to work.”
But with how often Alonso has been hit, an injury has begun to feel inevitable.
Canha said he recently told Jeremy Barnes, the team’s assistant hitting coach, that every time Alonso is batting “and I see a ball go up high, I wince because I’m afraid for him, because I know they’re trying to get in his kitchen. But it’s just scary because of the number of times he’s not only been hit, but hit in the head.”
Alonso was one of three Mets batters Darvish hit.
“I have never seen so many people get hit in the feet area with curveballs,” Showalter said. “I’m not talking about just grazing. I’m talking about being smoked. I’m sure somebody can come up with a reason why. But, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of them up and in, too.”
Based on his own experience — he said he had broken his left hand three times — Alonso intends to exercise patience. This bruise, he said, is reminiscent of the sprained right hand that he tried to play through last year before finally landing on the injured list in May. He said he was a “shell” of himself then and didn’t want to reach that point again.
“We have a chance to do something special, and I want to put my best foot forward,” Alonso said. “And if I go out there not feeling right, I’m not going to be doing justice for this team, because these guys are putting in a lot of hard work and I don’t want to be a weak link in the chain.”
So the Mets will be on ice — in more ways than one — for Thursday’s off day. And while Alonso and Marte work on healing, and the right-hander Tylor Megill prepares to leave the injured list and start Friday night’s game, Showalter said he would probably Thursday spend visiting with members of the Mets’ scouting department as they conduct West Coast meetings in preparation for next month’s amateur draft. The Mets own five of the first 100 picks, and the Eppler administration will have a chance to set a long- term course.
Showalter said he figured he’d “go over and stick my head in there” and see what was going on.
“Just to basically have some goldfish with them. Goldfish and peanuts, and go home,” he quipped: the relaxing thoughts of a manager whose team keeps winning in spite of everything.