By Ernie Palladino
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Outside of Jon Niese and Matt Harvey, the Mets are clearly not a reliable lot.
Especially on offense.
Terry Collins knew that going into the season. If he was fooled by anything, it might have been his team’s 10-9 start that covered up a lot of the offensive flaws that showed up during the six-game losing streak Jordany Valdespin helped break with Wednesday’s three-run, pinch-hit homer against the Marlins.
They actually hit a little bit during that start, though not spectacularly. The .277 batting average compiled over their 11 total wins, most of which of course came during their start, ranked just 22nd in the majors. Their 17 homers ranked smack in the middle at 15.
The power number wasn’t bad, but the fact is the story this year may be much the same as last year. Collins’ squad simply doesn’t have a lot of offense. When you’re dependent on a bench player such as Valdespin to provide the big hit, you’re in trouble.
And now that the Mets are in Atlanta, that lack of offense is liable to show up even more. The Braves headed into Friday night’s game with a 3.11 staff ERA, which tied them with the Cardinals for tops in the majors.
For whatever nice surprises the Mets will find with their pitching — perhaps Dillon Gee will turn into a consistently good No. 3 — their hitting is simply not going to carry them with any great regularity. Aside from David Wright, there are no stars on offense. Just a lot of potential that hasn’t been realized yet. And Collins has to go easy with Wright and his stiff neck, at least for the near future.
Getting a pinch homer from Valdespin is nice. He had five of those last year, a franchise high. But no offense can count on that for sustained success. The Mets need people like Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda hitting, not just for average such as Murphy’s .295 mark, but the long ball, too. As of Thursday, Murphy had just two homers, Duda a respectable five, and Ike Davis four. And Davis was struggling through another horrible start at .169, almost 20 points lower than last year’s horrendous April.
If not for catcher John Buck’s team-high nine homers, the Mets wouldn’t be generating significant power at all.
A team needs those quick runs, if only to give their pitchers a little breathing room every now and then.
The lack of that has shown up, too. Their 7-6 win over the Marlins marked just their second one-run victory of the season against six losses. They have scored three or fewer runs in eight of the last 13 games heading into first-place Atlanta. That number could increase, especially when Harvey and Tim Hudson hook up in a potential pitcher’s duel Sunday at Turner Field.
Still, Collins believed the right philosophy was in place for success. It was execution that was lacking.
“The approach has been good,” Collins said before the bats finally came alive in Wednesday night’s 13-hit barrage. “But when we get a ball to hit, we haven’t done big damage with it. We’ve hit some balls hard, we’ve hit them at people. We’re a better offensive team than what we’re showing.”
The bottom line is that this is not a team that can survive by pitching alone. Right now, there appears little help unless Wednesday‘s game truly turns into a game-changing shift. The overall team BA sits at .237, 25th in the league. Try as the pitching staff might, it’ll be hard to win if the bats don’t snap out of that .189 coma they fell into during the losing streak. Even when a fourth starter like Jeremy Hefner goes a sterling eight-plus innings in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Marlins.
Perhaps getting Justin Turner and that .419 BA he’s compiled in his seven starts into the lineup consistently will help.
Whatever the solution, Collins has to find something to spur the offense. Quickly.
Otherwise, it’s going to be another long year.
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