Maybe the Mets really can survive the looming June gauntlet without Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. Their lineup seems prepared to slug its way through the brutal stretch of playoff contenders.
The latest evidence arrived Saturday night at Citi Field, when an 8-2 pounding of the Phillies on Fireworks Night exhibited this group’s versatility.
There was a long Jeff McNeil home run and small-ball that produced an early run. The two key middle-of-the-order cogs, Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor, also came through when called upon, as the Mets beat the Phillies for the eighth time in 11 tries.
They improved to 31-17, equaling their high-water mark of the season and now lead the Braves by a season-high 8 ¹/₂ games in the NL East.
“This is where we want to be,” McNeil said. “We’re putting up a lot of runs, we’re getting a lot of big hits in big situations.”
The Mets are second in baseball in runs scored, behind only the powerhouse Dodgers, and have now scored at least five runs in seven of their last 10 games.
Lindor continued his recent hot streak with three RBIs (he has driven in a run in six straight games, a career-high) and two runs scored. Alonso set a Mets record for most RBIs in the month of May with 29, after driving in a run with a sacrifice fly.
McNeil produced the big blow, a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fourth through raindrops, continuing a season-long trend of the Mets responding immediately after falling behind.
After circling the bases following his second-deck bomb into the right-field seats, McNeil strutted to the dugout and went into a dance that has become his new home run celebration. It’s an ode to the character Chazz, played by Will Ferrell, from the movie “Wedding Crashers.”
“Just living the dream right now,” McNeil said, repeating a line used in the film.
The lineup wasn’t even at full strength. Leadoff man Brandon Nimmo sat with a sprained right wrist that required a cortisone shot, but Luis Guillorme filled his role to a T, reaching base in each of his first four at-bats. His bunt single from him started a three-run fifth inning that ultimately put the game out of reach.
“He knows people get what he brings and appreciate it, and it has put him in a really great frame of mind,” manager Buck Showalter said.
There was no big uprising from the Phillies this time, after they nearly rallied from seven runs down to win Friday. The Mets’ bullpen delivered four shutout innings, two from rookie Colin Holderman, who has yet to allow an earned run over his first six outings spanning eight innings.
The offensive outburst made a winner out of Taijuan Walker (3-0) despite a so-so performance. It was a slog for the right-hander, who was coming off seven shutout innings against the Rockies. His command from him was off and his location from him was iffy, but he still limited the Phillies to two earned runs over five innings.
I have played with fire in the fourth, allowing four of the first five Phillies to reach base. But after JT Realmuto’s two-run single, Walker retired Odubel Herrera on a pop up. Then, after walking Johan Carmago to load the bases, he got Kyle Schwarber on a fly out. Walker also escaped trouble in the fifth, after allowing consecutive singles to Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, when Lindor turned a 6-6-3 double play.
“Sometimes those types of outings are more gratifying than the great outing he had last time out,” Showalter said.
The game was never in doubt from that point on. The Mets kept adding on and clinched the three-game series victory. Most importantly, they are 2-0 on this six-game homestand against the Phillies and the Nationals, which precedes a 10-game trip to Southern California to face the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. Altogether in June, the Mets will face likely playoff teams 17 times. The offense seems ready for the challenges that await.