Jeff McNeil has 104 plate appearances at the MLB level this year. With two more hits last night, he now has 32 on the season. He has a 143 wRC+, which is topped only by Brandon Nimmo, Austin Jackson and Jerry Blevins among Mets hitters this season. Given that Jackson only has 97 PAs himself and will almost certainly regress hard very soon, and Blevins is a pitcher with literally two PAs, McNeil is hitting at a level we’ve really only seen Nimmo sustain this year. His call-up so far has been a rousing success and, while it’s a small sample size, we may be looking at a very fine major league second baseman blossoming before our eyes.
McNeil’s two hits last night were in his first two at-bats of the game, which extended his consecutive hits streak to eight straight plate appearances, which was only one shy of a franchise record.
And yes, it’s probably not fair to go crazy over McNeil so early in his career; perspective is necessary here, too. But at this point, he is the biggest talking point on the team — at least on the days when Jacob deGrom doesn’t pitch. You never want to do the rest of the team a disservice by understating their contributions to the game as well, but McNeil looking like an actual star right now is probably the most important non-deGrom thing going on with the Mets, so it deserves to be highlighted and discussed as such.
And sure, Dom Smith homered last night too, and that’s cool! But everyone knows he almost certainly has no future on the team at this point. In fact, with Jay Bruce set to come off the DL as soon as this weekend, Smith’s roster spot may not even last the week. Todd Frazier homered and doubled in a run as well, which is also cool, but he’s probably locked into third base going into next year no matter what and him raising his season wRC+ from 94 to 98 isn’t particularly notable. He is what he is.
And Noah Syndergaard also is what he is, and that’s what he has been for a while: A very good, top-end pitcher with wipeout stuff, who is seemingly only ever undone by his defense and his own inability to hold runners. Last night, though, was more about the defense than anything else. Syndergard tossed six very solid innings while striking out six and walking only one. His velocity was back to around 100 mph and his sinker was looking very good. He allowed two runs, both of which came in the third inning, and both of which probably could have been avoided with better defense. He yielded two singles to start the frame, which then allowed the pitcher to bunt them over. The next hitter, Steven Duggar, hit a sharp ground ball to third, and the runner broke from third. There was a clear play at the plate, but Frazier couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. So he went to first, and the run scored. Then a seeing-eye single by the next hitter bounced just past a diving McNeil and scored another run. McNeil isn’t exactly known for his range, so you’d be inclined to think a plus defensive second baseman would get to that ball.
And that’s the story of Noah Syndergaard. His 3.38 ERA on the year is fine, but that’s it; just fine. It always feels like he should pitch better than he actually does. And it’s not just because of his stuff, but because it feels like all of the BABIP luck goes against him (his .340 BABIP backs up that feeling). It’s truly an odd thing.
In the end, the Mets won the game last night, 5-3. Paul Sewald got the save. The Mets now have a winning record (24-23) since the beginning of July, which pretty much serves as a reminder that there was the framework for a decent team this year; the pieces were there. But when you give 600 plate appearances to Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes in the Year of Our Lord 2018, this is what happens. And given that the NL East is not exactly a dogfight right now, this was a team that could have easily competed for the division if it was correctly built and properly utilized.
The Mets finish off this series with the Giants with a getaway day matinee this afternoon. Jacob deGrom and Madison Bumgarner face off in what should be a great pitcher’s duel at 1:10 p.m.
Photo credit: Andy Marlin – USA Today Sports