By Ernie Palladino
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What the Mets showed over the first five games of the season is pretty much what one can expect the rest of the way.
So get used to it.
As Terry Collins aptly pointed out after Saturday’s 8-1 loss to the Marlins, his team’s offense lies in power. If the lineup isn’t producing the long ball in bunches, everything becomes that much harder. The starters pitch with more pressure on them, and the bullpen has to work more innings than it should.
They’ll need power surges like Sunday’s, their first multiple-homer game of the season and a 5-2 win over the Marlins thanks to solo shots by Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto in the fifth and sixth innings. Without that, the Mets can expect a daily fight, with no guarantee of coming out on top.
Already, Collins has begun to feel the repercussions of a lineup that really hasn’t changed much since last year. The bullpen has already been overused. Their relievers went into Sunday’s finale against the Marlins having worked 20 1/3 innings.
So wary of burning out his relievers at this early juncture, Collins sent off Ty Kelly and brought up righty Paul Seward, thus leaving him just four bench players, including backup catcher Rene Rivera. Considering the inherent risks involved in using his only other catcher as a straight-up pinch-hitter, that’s going to leave Collins hamstrung for maneuvering the late innings offensively.
None of this comes as a real surprise. This is, by and large, a free-swinging group. Though they’ve struck homers in every game but Noah Syndergaard’s 6-0 opening day win over the Braves, the Mets haven’t done much else. In fact, they’re back down at No. 29 in batting average at .192.
Yoenis Cespedes has one homer, hit during Friday’s 7-2 loss against Miami, and has seen several other flies die on the warning track. Perhaps as the weather warms up, those balls will find the missing feet to clear the wall. But until then, the one player Collins relies on for run production struggles along with one RBI and four hits in 22 ABs.
Cespedes had a slow first week last year, too. But by the end of April, his average was up to .313 with seven homers and 23 RBI. Duplicating that, especially now that he has that new four-year, $110 million contract, will be pivotal not only to his own confidence, but to the Mets’ trust that they did the right thing in rolling up the money truck for him.
That said, it’s not all Cespedes’ fault. No one else has done much in the run-producing department, either.
Ironically, it is Bruce who has shown the most promise with his two solo blasts, the first one coming in the second game. But he was 1-for-10 with no RBI between his homers. Lucas Duda appears up to his all-or-nothing ways with a team-high eight strikeouts to go along with Saturday’s lone homer.
And Wilmer Flores hasn’t done much better at 2-for-12 with Wednesday’s homer.
Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud and Neil Walker, all hitting .200 or under, have yet to hit their first dingers and have but four RBI among them.
The 13 strikeouts Saturday only underscored the Mets’ problems.
As a result, the lineup produced just four runs in its three losses.
All this puts pressure on the pitching staff. Even in the opener, Collins might have allowed Syndergaard to go through the seventh as he did Sunday if the lineup could have given him a few runs to work with. Instead, he came out after six strong but stressful innings and a 0-0 deadlock, only to see Hansel Robles benefit from the six-run outburst in the seventh.
Ordinarily, one would call for patience. But similar to last year’s team, the all-or-nothing nature of the lineup will carry over. Unless the homers come in bunches, winning will become that much more of a challenge and the frustration over wasted pitching efforts will only mount.
They barely survived that last year to reach the wild-card game.
Expectations are higher this year.
The sooner they start air-mailing multiple balls into the seats, the more realistic a division championship will become.
Perhaps Sunday marked the first step toward regular power surges, something that can’t happen soon enough.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino