The Mets aren't anywhere close to contending, but over the last seven weeks, they've played their best baseball of the season. Alas, their task of maintaining respectability just got more difficult, as they've lost David Wright to a hamstring strain. He left Friday night's game against the Royals after legging out an infield single in the 10th inning and was placed on the disabled list before Saturday's game.
Signed to a an eight-year, $138 million extension last December, the 30-year-old Wright is in the midst of his best season at the plate since 2008. He's hitting .309/.391/.512 with 16 homers and 17 steals in 465 plate appearances, a performance worth 5.6 Wins Above Replacement, the third-highest total among NL position players; all three slash stats are among the league's top 10, with his on-base percentage fourth. Not surprisingly, he earned All-Star honors for the seventh time, and started for the NL in last month's Midsummer Classic at Citi Field.
After playing in just 102 games in 2011 due to a stress fracture in his lower back, Wright has been a model of durability over the past two seasons, playing 261 of the Mets' 269 games. Last year, his .306/.391/.492 performance was worth 6.9 WAR, the NL's fifth-highest total and 0.1 higher than his 2008 performance due to defense (+16 Defensive Runs Saved).
As durable as Wright has been of late, he had been pushed hard even while battling a hamstring issue in the past week, one that manager Terry Collins characterized as cramping. He sat out last Sunday's game but otherwise played every inning of every game in July, a month that saw the Mets go into extra innings five times, often in sweltering heat. The Mets played a major league-high 257 innings in July, nine more than the second-highest team and 16 more than they played in June — that despite the four-day All-Star break.
The Mets went 15-12 in July, their first winning month not only of this season but since last June. Dating back to June 17, they came into Saturday having gone 24-18 for the NL's fourth-best record behind the Dodgers (30-10), Pirates (24-15) and Braves (23-17), not to mention their best record over any 42-game stretch since 2010. It's not as though they were playing particularly over their heads in that span; their .571 winning percentage was only nine points higher than their .562 Pythagorean winning percentage. But even with that strong play, they came into Saturday just 49-58 overall, tied for third in the NL East but 14 1/2 games out of first. Thus it made little sense for the team to be pushing Wright so hard, even with the team playing well.
At the time of this writing, the results of Wright's MRI have not yet been announced, so the severity of his strain is unknown, but even in their mildest form, such injuries can be pesky. The Dodgers' Matt Kemp spent 58 days on the disabled list last year for a pair of Grade I hamstring strains, playing in just two games in between; he served the 15-day minimum on the DL for the first one, but was knocked out for six weeks after straining a different part of the same muscle. All of which is to say that if the Mets don't handle Wright's injury carefully, it could spell the end of his season.
As to who will replace Wright, the options aren't promising. On Friday night and again on Saturday, light-hitting Justin Turner (.261/.308/.324 this year) filled in at third base for the Mets; he has a total of 41 major league starts and 60 appearances at the hot corner, and handled the bulk of the duty there during Wright's absence in 2011. Daniel Murphy, the team's regular second baseman, has 28 games and 25 starts at third, all in 2011 as well, but Collins isn't likely to weaken two infield spots by moving him back there and playing someone else at second. Josh Satin and Zack Lutz have each made one start for the team at third this year; Satin, the only one of the two currently with the team, has 77 career minor league games there but only nine over the past two seasons. He's now platooning at first base with Ike Davis, so while playing him at third would be a chance to get his bat (.302/.429/.453 in 105 PA) into the lineup more often, he hasn't hit righties well (.224/.367/.347 in 60 PA), and Davis is utterly helpless against lefties. All in all, losing Wright is a potentially crushing blow for the Mets. But for as much as they'll feel his absence in the lineup, they would do well not to rush him back, lest he suffer a setback that would force them to deal with a replacement-level solution for even longer.