Posted on August 14, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
As soon as the New York Mets climb back into contention, they suffer a setback. The Mets placed utility man Jeff McNeil on the 10-day Injured List Wednesday with a hamstring strain. The Mets believe it’s a minor injury that will require a brief stay on the IL. Nevertheless, it’s a meaningful loss for the Mets, who have been the hottest team in baseball since the end of July.
McNeil hurt himself in the 9th inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Braves. He was hustling to 1st base on a ground ball and appeared to come up lame when his foot hit the bag. An MRI performed Wednesday morning indicated only a mild strain, giving the Mets hope that he’ll be able to return after the minimum of 10 days on the IL.
“It sucks,” McNeil said Tuesday night. “The team’s playing well. I just want to contribute. Hopefully, this is something real short and I can get back on the field.”
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Even 10 days without McNeil is a serious loss for the Mets. He’s been arguably the team’s best offensive player this season. Hitting primarily in the leadoff spot, McNeil is batting .332, putting him third in the National League batting title race, with an OPS .929. He’s been particularly hot lately to coincide with the team’s recent winning streak. In the month of August, McNeil is hitting .341 with an OPS of 1.202, hitting four home runs in his last 10 games.
In addition to replacing his offense, the Mets will have to get by without McNeil’s defensive versatility. He’s spent most of the season as a corner outfielder out of need with Yoenis Cespedes missing the whole season and Brandon Nimmo out of action since late May. McNeil has also helped fill in at second base, his natural position, since Robinson Cano went to the IL earlier this month.
With McNeil going on the IL, former Met Ruben Tejada has been called up to take his spot on the roster. Tejada hasn’t played in the majors since 2017. He also hasn’t played with the Mets since breaking his leg during the 2015 NLDS on a dirty slide by Chase Utley. However, he signed a minor league contract with New York this year and has hit .337 with an OPS of .898 in the minors this year. He figures to share time at second base with Joe Panik until McNeil returns.
Meanwhile, with McNeil no longer an option in the outfield, the Mets will have little choice but to use Juan Lagares on a regular basis. While he provides Gold Glove caliber defense, Lagares is hitting just .199 this season, and that’s after going 4 for 4 on Tuesday. Aaron Altherr is also an option in the outfield, but he’s 4 for 54 in the big leagues this season.
Any way you slice it, McNeil leaves a big void in New York’s lineup, both offensively and defensively. The Mets have worked hard to get back into the playoff race, winning 15 of 16 games until losing their last two games. They’ve crawled all the way back within two games of a Wild Card spot. But they are not at risk of losing their momentum with the invaluable McNeil on the IL. Even if he only misses 10 games, it’ll be tough for the Mets to keep pace in the Wild Card race.
“It’s tough,” starter Zack Wheeler said of McNeil after Tuesday’s game. “He’s a huge part of this team. He brings the fire every day to the field. He’s a ballplayer, and you need those types of guys on the team. You need them in the lineup. It’s unfortunate that that happened. Hopefully, it’s not too serious and he can get back decently quick. We’ll need his bat, that’s for sure.”