Sunday, July 17, 2022

Mets Maintain NL East Edge With Big Road Trip To Close First Half


Mets pitcher Yoan Lopez (44) with Tomas Nido after he closed out Saturday night's win in Chicago. @Mets Twitter.

The Mets enter the All-Star break in first place in the National League East, where they have been all season. The Mets (58-35) take a 2 1/2 game lead over Atlanta (56-38) after they took five out of seven games on the road - two out of three over the Braves in Atlanta and three out of four in Chicago against the Cubs.

The Mets' 58 wins are the second-most wins before the break in franchise history, with only the 1986 Mets (59-25) winning more (that was a pretty good year). The last time the Mets won 50 or more games before the break was in 2006 (53-36), a year the Mets made it to the National League Championship Series.

The Mets led the National League East by as many as 10 1/2 games  over Atlanta on June 1. Since then, Atlanta has been on a tear, as they have gone 34-8 since then, and came as close as 1 1/2 games of the Mets on July 10, but the Mets have shown remarkable resiliency in not buckling and going on a tough road trip and gaining ground on Atlanta.

Pete Alonso has been the star of the first half for the Mets, as he has hit .265 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI, plus a .339 on-base percentage, a .517 slugging percentage, and an .857 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

The Mets first baseman set the record for most RBI before the All-Star break with 78, surpassing the 74 David Wright had in 2006. Alonso's 24 first-half homers are tied with Mike Piazza (24 in 2000) for fourth-most in team history before the All-Star Game, and Alonso himself shares the record with 30 home runs in 2019 (Dave Kingman had 30 in 1976).

The Mets opened the four-game series in Chicago with an 8-0 romp on Thursday night. They wasted no time getting to Keegan Thompson, arguably the best pitcher in the Chicago rotation, as he entered this one with a 7-3 record and a 3.03 ERA (earned run average). 

Francisco Lindor had an RBI double in the first inning, then Patrick Mazeika had a two-run double and Starling Marte an RBI single in the second, and Eduardo Escobar had an RBI single in the fifth to open up a 5-0 Mets lead, and that was the last hitter Thompson faced.

Brandon Nimmo hit a solo homer in the sixth, the ninth of the season for number 9, and then Alonso put it away with a two-run shot, #24, in the eighth, to make it 8-0.

Carlos Carrasco got his 10th win of the season, as he has a 10-4 record with a 4.27 ERA. He threw six shutout innings, and scattered five hits and two walks, with six strikeouts.

After a rain out Friday, the Mets and Cubs played a day-night doubleheader on Saturday, the first one against the Cubs since April 22, 2000 at Shea Stadium, and their first at Wrigley Field since July 24, 1988. 

The Mets took both ends of the doubleheader - 2-1 in 11 innings the first game and 4-3 in 10 innings in Game 2 - just the fifth time in Mets history that both games of a doubleheader went extra innings, and the fourth time they swept an all extra-innings doubleheader. 

Prior to 2020 (when they played seven-inning games in doubleheaders), the last time both ends of a Mets doubleheader went extra innings was on July 31, 1983 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which was also a Mets sweep.

Alonso got the game-winning RBI in each game, and the his the first Major League player to have the game-winning RBI in extras in both games of a road doubleheader since Hank Aaron did it on September 13, 1956 (per Stats, Inc.) Alonso leads the majors with 14 game-winning RBI and 20 go-ahead RBI this season.

In the first game, the Mets got tremendous pitching, as Taijuan Walker went six innings, allowing one run on four hits and two walks, with five strikeouts. Seth Lugo worked around a hit and a walk to pitch a scoreless seventh, as he had a strikeout. Drew Smith pitched a perfect eighth, with two strikeouts; Adam Ottavino pitched two perfect innings and notched three strikeouts, and earned the win to improve to 4-2 on the season; and Edwin Diaz pitched a perfect 11th inning, with two K's, to earn his 20th save of the season.

Alonso provided all the offense, as he had an RBI double in the fourth, and then in the 11th, he brought home Luis Guillorme, who was the ghost runner, with sacrifice fly. 

In the second game, Max Scherzer turned in another superb outing in this third start back from missing six weeks due to an oblique injury. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and a walk, with 11 strikeouts. He got a no-decision in this one, so he enters the All-Star break with a 6-1 record and 2.22 ERA after he made 11 starts.

Eduardo Escobar had his 11th homer of the season in this one, a solo shot in the fourth inning, and the game was 2-2 heading to the 10th.

In the tenth inning, Alonso was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run, and then Lindor came in to score on a throwing error by pitcher Daniel Norris, who tried to pick him off third base, and that made it 4-2 Mets.

Yoan Lopez came on to pitch for the Mets in the 10th, and he stayed in for the 11th inning, and ran into trouble. After Nelson Velazquez struck out, Christopher Morel singled home the "ghost runner" David Bote to cut the Mets lead to 4-3. Seiya Suzuki then followed with a single, and Morel got to third base. Nico Hoerner was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out, giving the Mets a force at any base, and it paid off as Frank Schwindel hit into a double play to end the game.

On Sunday, the Mets were on their way to a sweep, as they had a 2-1 lead into the eighth before Drew Smith gave up an RBI groundout to Ian Happ, and then Nico Hoerner got an RBI single to make it 3-2 Chicago, which would be the final.

The Mets took an early lead when they executed a perfect double steal, as Lindor took second base and Starling Marte took home plate to make it 1-0 in the first. That was Marte's 12th steal of the season, and Lindor's 10th, showing how much faster this team is than Mets teams in other years.

Alonso had an RBI single in the fifth to make it 2-1, and that gave him 78 RBI, a Mets first-half record, as was discussed before.

David Peterson got the start for the Mets in this one, as he went five innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits and three walks, with eight strikeouts. The left-hander, who's in his third year with the Mets, finished the first half with a record of 5-2 and a 3.24 ERA, not bad for a pitcher who was not slated to be in the rotation.

The Mets come out of the All-Star break with a five-game homestand, as they host the San Diego Padres in a three-game weekend series starting Friday night (all three games are at 7:10 pm), and then the Yankees come over for a two-game set Tuesday, July 26 and Wednesday, July 27. 

That essentially starts a four-game series between the New York teams, as the Mets play two against the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium on August 22 and August 23. It will be the first time in a while the Subway Series will be at full blast as both New York teams are in first place, which brings thoughts of a rematch in October 

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