The Mets opened their first 2016 showdown against the Washington Nationals without Lucas Duda or David Wright available to face Max Scherzer, who recorded 20 strikeouts in his previous outing. They had also just lost three games against the Colorado Rockies, scoring nine total runs against inferior pitching at the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
None of this portended a strong offensive showing on Tuesday night, and—at least on balance—the Mets didn't quite get one. They reached base seven times (four hits, three walks), and Scherzer registered 10 strikeouts over 6.1 innings. Yet Curtis Granderson gave Noah Syndergaard all the run support he needed on one first pitch.
The slumping outfielder sent Scherzer deep with a leadoff homer in the 2-0 win. He went 2-for-2 with two walks, his first time drawing more than one free pass in a game this season. With two of their top hitters sidelined, a reeling Granderson looked much more like the guy who spent the first half of last season as a depleted lineup's lone bright spot.
Per the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro, Terry Collins reinforced Granderson's importance to their offense after the victory. "If he gets on base we tend to score a lot more runs," Collins said, "and we tend to win a lot more games."
A year after hitting .259/.364/.457 with 26 homers, 98 runs scored, and a 5.1 fWAR, the right fielder has given back most of those gains. He's now batting .211/.304/.437. While the power remains there, perhaps even more so with a .225 ISO, his 9.9 walk percentage represents his lowest clip since 2007. The 35-year-old certainly isn't setting the table because of his speed and contact skills, so it's imperative for him to keep drawing walks.
Based on his career trajectory, last year's .259 average stands out as an outlier more than this season's .211 clip. Yet his 7.8 swinging-strike percentage is lower than any career rate besides last season's 6.9, so a .235 BABIP has probably oversold his struggles. If he's closer to a .235-.240 hitter, he still needs a double-digit walk rate to remain an effective leadoff option.
If Tuesday is a harbinger for Granderson's bounce-back, it certainly came at the perfect time.