CHICAGO — So this is what it should look like.
After two days of struggling through the late spring chill in Chicago, the Mets looked like a different team Thursday night in a 10-1 loss to the Cubs. They recorded 15 hits, their second-highest total of the season (and their highest in nearly a full calendar month). They received some solid pitches, especially from Carlos Carrasco. And they combined everything to salvage their last game at Wrigley Field after losing two in a row.
“Everything falls into place,” Carrasco said.
Although Carrasco is referring to his own success on the mound, he might as well have been talking about the whole team. It was that kind of performance, that kind of night.
Throughout it, three factors were a little more important than the others:
Those concerned about Carrasco’s form received some relief Thursday, as Carrasco not only gave the Mets their best start to the season, he delivered arguably their best outing since last July. It had been so long since Carrasco had allowed a run or less while pitching the seventh inning. Afterwards, Carrasco admitted he had never felt better at any time this year.
Of particular note was Carrasco’s divisional switch, which generated five of its nine puffs on the night. Throwing with a bone spur in his right elbow that currently isn’t causing him any discomfort, Carrasco likely won’t be regaining his old mid-’90s speed anytime soon. But if he can effectively play his division change on a 90s fastball, while mixing up two different breaking pitches, there’s reason to believe the 36-year-old can still thrive.
“When I have that kind of change, I don’t want to stop throwing it,” Carrasco said. “I can get a lot of ground balls.”
Behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Mets don’t have a consistent third option in their rotation. If Carrasco can become that kind of pitcher again, the team’s pitching situation will be markedly different.
“We all know what he could mean to us,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Occasional polar power
With the game mostly in hand in the seventh inning, Pete Alonso attacked a fastball clipped by Michael Rucker to the outside edge of the strike zone, hit it hard, then watched the wind help carry it to 372 feet above the right field fence. In doing so, Alonso joined Dansby Swanson as the only right-handed hitters to penetrate deep into that part of Wrigley Field this season.
Over the two months of the season, the numbers and facts about Alonso have become something to behold. For example, he is one of nine players to hit at least 165 homers in his first five seasons, joining luminaries such as Ralph Kiner, Albert Pujols, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
Alonso leads the Majors in home runs and the National League in RBIs. He and Jeff McNeil even executed a successful double steal in round five on Thursday, boosting Alonso’s career completion rate to 91.2%. Oh, and he’s only had one error on first base all season.
“We don’t talk about it a lot, intentionally,” Showalter said. “Everyone does their projections and whatever might happen, but they also play with a lot of effort.”
Outside of Alonso, the New York offense isn’t designed to hit home runs as consistently as most other contenders. The Mets remain within the league average in the power department, as they were last season. So it was encouraging for Showalter to see the offense string together multi-hit rallies in the third and eighth innings.
“It’s just a reminder of what we are capable of and what we need to do,” Showalter said.
Of particular note are the multi-hit games from McNeil, Francisco Alvarez, Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte – the latter two of which appear to be emerging from recent recessions.
“That’s when we’re at our best – we’re taking good ABs, we’re getting on base, we’re putting pressure on defense,” McNeil said. “It leads to a few races.”