Wright's presence recognized by his absence
Mets find difficulty in compensating for injured third baseman
NEW YORK -- When Daniel Murphy was busy bludgeoning baseballs over the first four games of the season, the person he credited was David Wright. The Braves and Nationals were giving him plenty of pitches to hit, Murphy reasoned, because they would rather face him than Wright.
When Ike Davis was bludgeoning nothing but his self-confidence over the first four games of the season, the person he looked to was Wright. His own struggles meant little, Davis reasoned, because Wright's offense was carrying the team.
So it was more than a .583 average, .647 on-base percentage and .833 slugging mark -- et cetera, et cetera -- that Wright delivered over the first four games. It was Wright's mere presence that buoyed Murphy, that soothed Davis and Jason Bay, that accelerated the Mets toward a perfect record. Wright was the central gear that allowed everything else to tick.
Then Wright fractured his right pinkie finger and his teammates played without him. And they lost -- once, twice, and possibly counting.
So pardon manager Terry Collins if he seemed overzealous in hoping that Wright can return as soon as Friday. Maybe he can -- that much will become clear before game time, when the Mets must make a disabled list decision. Wright visited a hand specialist Thursday for a second straight day and remains optimistic himself.
In any case, the Mets may not be able to succeed for any extended period of time without Wright.
"As much as you want to say everybody picks each other up, David was a big part of what we were doing early on," Bay said.
In admitting it, Bay referenced the typical dynamic of a National League lineup, which is to say that all eight batters rarely hit well at the same time. That much was certainly true over the first homestand for the Mets, with Murphy, Wright and Ruben Tejada all hot but Davis and Bay decidedly frigid.
Davis in particular did not record a hit before muscling a single through the right side of the infield Wednesday, preventing him from matching the franchise's worst individual offensive start in more than a decade.
"I have numbers on my average now, so that's a good thing," a somewhat relieved Davis said afterward.
But the reality is that those numbers remain bleak; Davis is still just 1-for-20 on the season. Bay is 3-for-19. Mesh their stat lines and those two are batting .103 with one extra-base hit as the team's fourth and fifth batters, striking out in a combined 38 percent of all plate appearances.
It would be cause for concern during any stretch of the season.
"And then, obviously, you take David out of that equation," Bay said. "Any team, that's going to hurt."
The protection is gone without Wright in place. Last year, when Wright missed more than two months of the season with a stress fracture in his lower back, the Mets were able to weather his absence for two distinct reasons: Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. The former enjoyed a renaissance season, giving the Mets some much-needed thump in the middle of their lineup. The latter reached the apex of his own career year in June.
Combined, those two hit .337 with nine home runs, 26 doubles and 12 triples while Wright was disabled, reaching base more than 40 percent of the time.
So now, with Wright again possibly headed toward the DL, the Mets must turn to Davis and Bay. With respect to Murphy and Lucas Duda, who bat second and sixth in Collins' ideal lineup, Davis and Bay are two potential cogs. And right now, at the worst possible time, both are struggling.
"Obviously, David's a great hitter," Davis said. "We get hits with him and pitchers maybe get a little more tired, because they have to concentrate really hard when David's hitting. The more you can wear them out, hopefully the more they give you mistakes."
So the Mets will wait for the updated diagnosis on Wright, who may or may not play Friday, the next day and the day after that. All that's clear through six games of the season -- four wins with Wright, two losses without him -- is that barring significantly increased production from Bay and Davis, the Mets may not be able to weather a long stretch without him.