February 2, 2023

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When facing Mets, you must Beware the Bear

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Pete Alonso hit two more home runs on Sunday against the Phillies, against whom he’s now got four in little more than a month. He now has seven homers for the season and 26 RBIs, which put him second in the Majors behind José Ramírez. So two more big flies for the Polar Bear. He has been hitting them since he got to the big leagues. He’s now hit 113 in 400 games, and that number would be a lot bigger if the sport hadn’t lost more than 100 games to the global pandemic in 2020.

But you don’t have to be with the Elias Sports Bureau to do the math on the fact that Alonso is averaging more than a home run every four games, which works out to 40 a season. He is already on his way to being the greatest power hitter the Mets have ever had. Good news for the Mets.

Bad news for the rest of baseball? Alonso’s batting average so far (.276) is almost 20 points higher than his career .258, and that he feels he’s gotten smarter as a hitter.

Francisco Lindor is the biggest and best all-around talent on the Mets. But it’s Alonso who brings danger to the middle of Buck Showalter’s batting order. Even Lindor stands on the broad shoulders of the kid from Tampa, Fla., hitting behind him. There are plenty of reasons why the Mets, by winning the second game of that doubleheader against the Phillies on Sunday, are the first team to get to 20 wins this season. The Polar Bear sure is one of them. And he might only be getting started.

He was as valuable as any player in the National League when he was a rookie and broke Aaron Judge’s rookie home run record with 53, and the Mets ended up winning 86 games, the most they’ve won with him on the team. They’re going to win a lot more this season, and the man in the middle will be a huge part of it.

The season that began with his truck being flipped three times when another car ran a red light when he was on his way to Spring Training is working out just fine for him, and for the Mets, so far. Here is what his new manager, Mr. Showalter, has seen from his regular first baseman and part-time DH:

“Sincere,” Buck said. “Always the same guy every day. Never moody. Really good teammate. Really wants to win. Doesn’t mind working on his weaknesses. He doesn’t look at the media as an enemy. A simple soul, really. Good husband. His nickname is perfect: Polar Bear. I see someone I call country strong. Very respectful, and he ain’t scared, and he likes baseball. A lot.

“He appreciates everything he has, like he can’t believe the money he’s making. And here’s something else that’s especially meaningful to a manager, and to his teammates: He listens.”

He listens to his manager and his coaches. And has worked on his swing. He went 3-for-5 in the second game against the Phillies and did hit those two homers and knocked in five. But the swing that he wanted to talk about came on his second time up, a single to center field. He has been going up the middle, and to right, more often this season.

“Just taking whatever the opposing teams give me. I’ve always been able to go to the big parts of the field. This year it has happened a lot earlier,” Alonso said after the Mets got to 20-10. “I haven’t seen as many driveable pitches where you want to get big on and hit a double in the gap or go up top, but I just want to stay within myself and just put good quality swings on good pitches. Going to right field is a product of having a plan and not getting too big.”

He is just big for the Mets, and is probably just getting started with professional hitters he has around him in Showalter’s batting order. Lindor was there last year, but his numbers weren’t close to what he expected of himself or the Mets expected from him. Jeff McNeil, a lifetime .301 hitter, had the worst season of his career in 2021, batting just .251. Now he is hitting .323. And Mark Canha is there, and Starling Marte, and Dominic Smith, with whom Alonso shares DH-ing and first base, provides more pop from the left side of the plate.

There is balance to the Mets’ order. But the big home-run bat still belongs to Alonso, the Home Run Derby guy (he’s won it twice). When the Mets needed his power against the Phillies after losing the first game of the doubleheader, he gave it to them. Twice. He does not have the flash of Lindor’s game. He isn’t as big as the home run guys on the other side of New York City, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

So two more homers yesterday. “Only” seven so far for Alonso. Even with that, only C.J. Cron and Willy Adames have more in the National League. Beware the Bear.

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