It’s no surprise that injuries have seemingly increased around the league, as many predicted an uptick following the delayed and shortened nature of the 2020 MLB season. The Mets were lucky to escape April relatively unscathed in that department, but the injuries have been mounting over the course of the month.
Prior to this series, the team was able to manage their injuries and win in spite of them, but that good luck ran out quickly this weekend. The Mets endured two more injuries to crucial players today, losing both Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil to hamstring tightness during their 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, which finished off a demoralizing sweep following a seven-game winning streak.
It didn’t take long for the injury bug to bite the Mets in this one. Jeff McNeil led off the game with an infield single against opposing starter Josh Fleming, but upon further replay, he seemed to grimace running through the first base bag. He remained in the game until the end of the inning, but he was eventually lifted for Patrick Mazeika—more on that later—after being diagnosed with left hamstring tightness. Two batter later, Michael Conforto grounded into an inning-ending double play, but he pulled up lame and would be replaced in right field by Jake Hager. Conforto was later diagnosed with right hamstring tightness. So it goes.
Marcus Stroman got the nod for the Mets, looking to build upon his solid outing against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night. For a while, all looked good for the right-hander. He worked around a Ji-Man Choi single in the first to pitch a scoreless inning, and he pitched perfect second and third innings after that. He relied heavily on his slider early on, and it seemed to be working out to his advantage. Meanwhile, the Mets’ bats remained silent, failing to get a hit in the second, third, or fourth innings.
Things took a turn for the worst in the fourth inning. Stroman, who is a ground ball machine when he is firing on all cylinders, succumbed to the long ball over his final three innings of work, which is incredibly rare and was very troubling to witness. To this point in the season, the right-hander had allowed three home runs and a total of nine earned runs. From the fourth through the sixth, he was tagged for three home runs and five earned runs.
First came a two-run blast from noted Mets Killer® Manuel Margot, who put Tampa Bay on the board following Choi’s second single of the game, and gave them the only runs they would need. Margot had entered play slashing .375/.403/.597 with two home runs in 72 career at-bats against the Mets, and he improved upon those numbers with his homer. In the fifth, Stroman hit Francisco Mejia with a pitch to lead off the frame, and subsequently surrendered a home run to Willy Adames that traveled deep into the right center field stands. With the lineup the team was running out there following the injuries, it was clear that four runs was far more than the team could make up for. Brandon Lowe added a solo shot in the sixth, though Stroman was able to navigate the rest of the inning without further damage. The rough outing inflated the 30-year-old’s ERA from 2.01 to 2.72 on the season.
The lone highlight for New York came in the top of the sixth. Kevin Cash replaced Fleming, who had given his team five shutout innings, with Diego Castillo, who hasn’t pitched since May 3 and was working his way back from an injury. With one out, Mazeika, who was inserted as the Designated Hitter for the injured McNeil, strode to the plate and launched his first career hit, a no-doubt-about-it home run that sailed into the right field stands. Mazeika, who has put together a terrific month with two walk-off fielder’s choices, has become something of a cult figure for his recent heroics, and this was a genuine nice moment despite the defeat.
That was the last hit the Mets would pick up in the game. Robert Gsellman came in to pitch a scoreless seventh, and Luis Rojas opted to go with Edwin Díaz, who hadn’t pitched in a week, for the eighth. Diaz, who is normally ineffective in non-save situations, was hit hard by the Rays, which resulted in two more runs for Tampa Bay. Austin Meadows started the inning with a single, and Choi picked up his third hit of the afternoon, a double which drove home Meadows. After striking out Lowe, Diaz gave up a single to Margot, which drove Choi home. Hager did register his first career outfield assist when he managed to throw out Margot trying to stretch his single into a double. Diaz escaped the frame by getting Joey Wendle to fly out. The Mets went down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning.
The Mets will try to get back in the win column on Monday as they head to Truist Park to begin a three-game set against the division rival Atlanta Braves. The Mets will turn to Taijuan Walker, who will look to play stopper to the team’s losing streak, against Max Fried, who will get the nod for Atlanta.
SB Nation GameThreads
*illar of the Game
Neither: Both Pillar and Villar reached base once but were otherwise hitless in the game.
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Jeff McNeil, +3.6% WPA
Big Mets loser: Marcus Stroman, -19.4% WPA
Mets pitchers: -19.7% WPA
Mets hitters: -30.3% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Jonathan Villar reaching on an error in the third, +4.1% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Manuel Margot two-run homer in the fourth, -24.7% WPA