For one New York Mets hitter, it was a night to remember. For the rest of the team, it was a night to forget. On an evening when the primary focus should have been on Pete Alonso setting a new franchise mark for home runs in a season, much of the discussion will center on the rest of the offense, which continues to falter at a key juncture in the season.
With a palpable playoff-like energy inside Citi Field as the team began its most important stretch of games since the 2016 season, the offense laid a giant egg in front of the home crowd. Things started off innocently enough, as Marcus Stroman kicked off his outing with four scoreless frames. He tossed a one-two-three first that included a Jason Heyward strikeout to begin the game. The Mets followed suit by going quietly against Yu Darvish in the first.
With a ground ball pitcher in Stroman on the mound, Mickey Callaway chose to go with Todd Frazier at third base with Michael Conforto in center field to prioritize infield defense over the outfield. That move backfired at several points in the game, beginning in the second. Javier Baez led off the inning with a double past the outstretched arm of Conforto, but the outfielder recovered nicely to retrieve the ball and fire a perfect throw to cut-off man Amed Rosario, who relayed the ball to Frazier for the first out of the inning. With that, Stroman settled down to get the next two batters.
The Mets had one of their best scoring chances in the second but couldn’t capitalize. Conforto led off with a triple on a ball that hit off the right field wall an caromed away from right fielder Nicholas Castellanos. With a golden opportunity to cash in and get on the board, Conforto’s teammates failed to bring him home. Baez redeemed himself for his baserunning blunder by snagging a Wilson Ramos liner to keep Conforto at third. After that, J.D. Davis hit a fly ball to shallow center field, and Joe Panik lined out to Castellanos to end the threat.
The game marched along from there, with both teams trading scoreless thirds before Stroman got into and out of trouble in the fourth. Alonso stepped to the plate to begin the fourth with history sitting on his bat and crushed a first-pitch fastball into the right-center field bullpen for his 42nd long ball of the year. It was a wonderful moment for the Polar Bear, who got a curtain call and a standing ovation from the crowd. Alonso surpassed the previous record of 41, which was shared by Todd Hundley (1996) and Carlos Beltran (2006). Alonso now finds himself ten home runs behind the all-time rookie record of 52, which was set by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge in 2017.
Two batters later, Wilson Ramos lined a single to extend his hitting streak to 20 games. With that, he became the first player this season to reach that mark, and the first major leaguer with a 20-game hitting streak since Whit Merrifield did it last year. He also has his sights set on Moises Alou’s franchise record of 30 straight games with a base hit. Ramos was stranded at first after Davis struck out and Panik grounded out.
I invite you to hold on to the happiness you felt when Alonso hit that home run and Citi Field rocked back and forth, because things only went downhill from there. Victor Caratini began the fifth with a double off Conforto’s glove on a ball that Juan Lagares very likely could have caught had he started in center. Addison Russell followed with a two-run home run to center field to put Chicago up by a run. While Stroman was able to escape the fifth without additional damage, the Cubs jumped on him again in the sixth as they doubled their run total. This time it was Kris Bryant getting things started with a double before Baez lifted a pitch just over the right field wall for a two-run home run. With the Mets’ offense not getting many great at-bats against Darvish, things appeared rather bleak.
Stroman would exit after throwing 96 pitches over his six innings. While he looked great over the first four frames, he couldn’t keep Chicago in the park and faltered late. Of the six hits he ended up giving up, five went for extra bases. He finished his night with seven strikeouts and two walks. The Mets continue to wait for a vintage Stroman start, and they will have to hope it happens soon, as his next two starts will be against the rival Philadelphia Phillies.
Meanwhile, the Mets continued to have no luck against a dominant Darvish. While Frazier drew a walk in the fifth to end the pitcher’s streak at 142 consecutive batters without issuing a free pass, the team couldn’t get enough baserunners to build a rally. After Ramos contributed a two-out single in the sixth, the next seven Mets’ hitters were retired before Joe Maddon finally pulled his starter after eight innings.
After Jeurys Familia contributed a scoreless seventh, and with the game still theoretically within reach, Mickey Callaway made the curious decision to go to Chris Mazza and effectively punt the game. Things went about how you would have expected them to go, with Castellanos hitting a leadoff double before Baez drove him home on a double of his own. If a three-run lead seemed daunting, a four-run lead was down-right insurmountable given the state of the team’s offense in this one. To his credit, Mazza buckled down and got out of the inning before pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
With Darvish out of the game, the Mets had one final shot to come back against Brandon Kintzler. Conforto and Ramos each grounded out before Davis hit a garbage time home run to bring the Mets to within three. Any dreams of a comeback were quickly squashed as Kintzler got Panik to ground out to complete a dreadful loss.
With the Washington Nationals, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Phillies all losing, the Mets missed a golden opportunity to help themselves by defeating the Cubs. Instead, they fell three games back in the National League Wild Card and remained a game behind the Phillies and a half-game ahead of Milwaukee. The Mets will try desperately to regroup and solve their offensive woes on Wednesday night (weather permitting) against Kyle Hendricks, who has historically been a thorn in their side. New York will counter with Noah Syndergaard, who has been one of the best pitchers in the National League in the second half along with Jacob deGrom, who pitches on Thursday.
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Big winners: Pete Alonso, 10.8% WPA
Big losers: Marcus Stroman, -25.6% WPA, J.D. Davis, -10.9% WPA, Jeff McNeil, -10.2% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -26.3% WPA
Total batter WPA: -23.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Pete Alonso’s fourth inning home run, 14.3% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Addison Russell’s fifth inning two-run home run, -22.3% WPA