Three weeks into the season, the most stunning statistic so far is this: Across Major League Baseball, the combined batting average of all 30 teams entering Wednesday’s games was .235. If that sounds bad, it should: 52 years ago, in 1968, the 20 big-league clubs hit a combined .237.
You may recall: 1968 has been known forever as the “Year of the Pitcher.” Denny McLain won 31. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA. Don Drysdale set a record by stringing together 58 ²/₃ scoreless innings. Luis Tiant had a 1.60 ERA and an absurd 0.871 WHIP and was barely noticed. Carl Yastrzemski won a batting title hitting .301.
And baseball lost its mind.
It lowered the mound. Whispers about introducing a designated hitter rule became shouts. The sport declared it would never go hungry again, and mostly it hasn’t, but in this odd baseball year the pitchers started way ahead of the hitters and so far they’ve stayed that way. It feels like offensive-minded teams will thrive this year.
The Mets were supposed to be one of them, and there were supposed to be a lot of nights that looked like Wednesday night, when they piled up 11 runs on the Nationals, when they had a couple of innings of crooked numbers, when the parade around the basepaths felt like it might never end.
This was what 2020 was supposed to look like.
“We had better at-bats tonight,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “Right from the first inning on. A guy like [Nats starter] Anibal Sanchez can nibble and make you chase a lot. But the guys laid off a few of those and showed great patience.”
A good offense is malleable, of course, and it adjusts and it adapts when it needs to. Wednesday night the Mets scored all those runs and assembled 13 hits despite J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil, their top two hitters so far this year, combining to go 0-for-10.
Pete Alonso had three extra-base hits, including his third homer. Michael Conforto, quietly off to a splendid start, had a couple of hits, including the one that gave the Mets breathing room in the sixth, a two-run double over Adam Eaton’s head in right.
A good offense also is able to make deficits disappear. In football parlance, a good offense can score from anywhere on the field, from ahead, from behind, early innings or late.
Even in a short year, it would probably have been too much to declare Wednesday’s game any kind of seasonal flashpoint, but once Washington’s Juan Soto crushed a 7,000-foot blast to give the Nats a 3-0 lead four hitters into the game, it sure felt a little flash-pointy, especially since the Mets haven’t been great coming back this year.
So while the four-spot they laid on Sanchez to answer in the bottom half might not have been a season-saver, necessarily, it certainly halted the wrong kind of momentum. Nobody seems much inclined to run away with the NL East, seeing as how the Orioles have had their way with both the Nats and the Phillies the last few days, seeing as how the Braves were humbled the last two nights in The Bronx, seeing as how it’s still hard to believe that the Marlins aren’t a mirage.
But at some point, good things have to happen or else they might never happen at all. So Brandon Nimmo, an on-base machine but struggling to find holes and gaps, got three hits. Alonso had his three hits. Luis Guillorme continued to be a revelation, and Andres Gimenez added another day of intrigue to what is becoming a fascinating rookie year.
“To be able to grab that momentum right back was so important because it’s big to answer back,” said Nimmo, whose leadoff homer got things cranking and whose on-base percentage now sits at a remarkable .438. “I’m glad I was able to help.”
They all helped. They all pitched in. And for a night, anyway, they looked like the kind of offense they always believed they were going to be.
“I know it’s a short season,” Alonso said, “but we’re still less than a third of the way in. There’s still time for us to get where we want.”
Still time to look the way they were supposed to look.
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