Pete Alonso has never really played in meaningful games in his time as a major leaguer.
During his rookie season in 2019, the Mets entered September with a 14-game deficit in the National League East. They were buried behind their division rivals Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies in the wild card chase as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and the eventual second wild card winners the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite ending with an 86-76 record (the best winning percentage the Mets have finished with in Alonso’s career), there weren’t a lot of meaningful games down the stretch, at least compared to what he’ll face in the coming weeks.
The Mets limped to a fourth-place finish in the 2020 season and fell apart completely in last year’s home stretch, yet again robbing Alonso of many chances to strap the team to his burly back and realistically carry them to the postseason. This year, with much more help around him, Alonso has helped the Mets reach a point where every game from here on out matters significantly.
Any lapse in focus — which would be a somewhat natural reaction to their upcoming schedule against the Nationals, Pirates, Marlins and Cubs — could cause their three-game lead in the NL East to vanish. Playing bad teams will help increase their chances of victory, and keeping their foot on the gas has not been a problem for the 2022 Mets. But those games won’t just be handed to them.
Alonso is typically right in the middle of everything the Mets do on offense. Recently, that’s meant not scoring a huge amount of runs. Over their last 11 games the Mets have scored 3.45 runs per game, a full run beneath their yearly average of 4.67. While it’s a small sample size, it’s also a telling one. Those games have either come against fellow playoff teams (the Phillies, Yankees and Dodgers) or a stinker (the Rockies).
Big picture, beating the cream of the crop will be of utmost importance. But in the immediate future, the Mets need to get in a rhythm against those teams that are playing for nothing but pride. They were a bit offbeat when hosting Colorado, the opposite of what you want to see from a team gearing up for a month-long tournament against far better competition.
In his last 113 plate appearances, dating back to Aug. 5, Alonso has been in a funk. His game logs during this prolonged plunge show just five extra-base hits (three doubles and two dingers), a .235/.310/.324 slash line and 24 strikeouts to match his 24 hits. The Mets’ slugger has also angrily broken a bat over his knee twice in the last two weeks. That sort of irritation is bound to bubble up at this point of the MLB calendar, and one good week at the plate will make those outbursts feel like distant memories, but they still provide a decent window into where Alonso is at right now.
August was the worst slugging month of Alonso’s season and also the one that came with the most strikeouts. During that month, which is always the one where players start to feel the effects of playing an inherently maddening game virtually every single day, Alonso hit .194 in 35 plate appearances during the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. September needs to be the time that gets him in playoff mode, which will be an entirely foreign mental space for the 27-year-old.
Depending on how many wins the Mets can stack on their tour through some of the NL’s worst teams — and hopefully, for their sake, how many times the Braves falter in their approaching series against the Mariners, Giants and Phillies — Alonso may earn some much-needed days off.
As crunch time gets even crunchier and it becomes clear that Darin Ruf’s bat is not exactly the game changer that Billy Eppler was hoping for, Ruf’s best role could be giving Alonso a breather every now and then. Burnout is real in any profession, and one of the worst things the Mets could do is deplete their cleanup hitter’s energy tank before they ask him to magically start mashing again in October.
Whatever the formula is here — be it rest, natural positive regression toward Alonso’s season-long numbers, or just some get-right at-bats in Pittsburgh and Miami — it needs to start spitting out some better results before Alonso’s bat-snapping frustration becomes something much worse.