The New York Mets have won five games in a row for the first time since the 2019 season.
While there are many reasons why the Mets have turned things around recently, one of the things that really stands out is that they are getting some key contributions from some unlikely players.
Historically, the Mets bench has not been a great strength. It’s been hard enough for the organization to find everyday players capable of being major leaguers in recent seasons, let alone have a strong bench.
Coming into 2021, the Mets bench was viewed as a great strength, and while some of those players got off to a slow start this season, during this five-game winning streak, the Mets bench has proven they are indeed a strength.
One of those players is outfielder Kevin Pillar. Over the course of his career, Pillar would not be looked at as a ‘bench player.’ He’s been in the majors since 2015 and has been a starter most of the time. Yet, he was a free agent in the worst free-agent year in history, and with the crowded Mets’ outfield was viewed as a depth piece coming into season. He signed a 2-year contract during the off-season but struggled badly through April.
When the calendar changed on April 30, Pillar hit just .115 with 0 homers and no RBI. His OPS was just .294. But now, just 10 days later, he has gotten 10 hits in his last 29 at-bats, which have raised his batting average over 100 points. He also clocked two home runs in that time, helping raise his OPS to .647. Also, his outstanding defensive prowess has shined over the last week, making numerous outstanding catches that have helped an outfield in desperate need of some quality defense.
He has done more than fill the center-field role while Brandon Nimmo has been out nursing an injury. If Pillar continues to contribute at the rate he has recently, he should see increased playing time, even when Nimmo is healthy enough to return to the lineup.
Another veteran the Mets added to their bench in 2021 was infielder Jonathan Villar. Much like Pillar, Villar has been a solid major leaguer in his career. However, a rough 2020 season left Villar looking to rebuild his career, and he signed a one-year deal with the Amazins during the off-season.
He is an interesting player who has played shortstop, second base, and third base in his career, and he has also played the corner outfield positions when needed. He also provides a unique skill set to the club as he combines speed and power. He led the National League in stolen bases in 2016 and hit 24 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles in 2019.
For the Mets, Villar’s contributions this season have been consistent, but he has seen an uptick in playing time recently since third baseman, J.D. Davis went on the Injured List (IL). Villar hit a two-run home run during game two of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals that began the Mets five-game win streak. He has driven in a run in three of his last five games and has walked in each of his last four games. Plus, his defense has been solid, helping the team become more well-rounded.
Even catcher Patrick Mazeika has contributed to the Mets’ recent success. Mazeika is a 27-year-old catcher who has been in the Mets organization since 2015. He was drafted in the 8th round of the 2015 MLB draft and never played higher than AA in his professional career until this week. Mazeika was recently called up due to a flurry of injuries the Mets have had and gives the team a third catcher for the time being. He saw his first action of the season when he struck out against the Cardinals on Wednesday but got another shot again on Friday night against the D-backs with the bases loaded and one out in the tenth inning. Mazeika was the last man on Luis Rojas’ bench and came up in a crucial spot.
He hit a slow roller to the left side that couldn’t have gone more than 10 feet from home plate, but it was enough to score Pete Alonso from third and give the Mets a 5-4 victory. While the contact wasn’t great, for a kid in his second major league at-bat ever to make contact in that situation was a solid job, especially in a world where strikeouts have become so common.
Mazeika contributed once more this week when he got up with the bases loaded again on Sunday. He pinched hit for pitcher Miguel Castro in the sixth inning and was facing Arizona pitcher J.B. Bukauskas. He drew a walk to drive in a run and give the Mets a 3-1 lead. His discipline and poise at the plate helped lead the Mets to another victory. In three plate appearances this season, Mazeika has two RBI. Not too shabby.
Without Villar, Pillar, and Mazeika contributing the way they did this week, the Mets wouldn’t be on their winning streak.
Baseball has always been a team game. It takes a team effort to win a championship in a season that features 162 games.
The Mets bench players contributing at a high level are a big part of why the team has had their recent success.
If it stays this way throughout the season, expect the Mets win total to continue to rise.
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