MILWAUKEE — Four seems to be the magic number for the Mets and their sputtering offense this season. Entering Thursday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets were 18-3 when they scored at least four runs. When scoring less than four, they were 6-18.
Simple enough equation, right?
But with some inconsistent hitters, such as Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto, and others, like Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier, on the disabled list, the Mets needed to find a way to reach that threshold — to alleviate the strain on their pitching staff despite thumping fewer home runs than usual.
On Thursday, the Mets outlined a potential solution. And they did so against the Brewers, who entered the day with the lowest team earned run average in the National League, largely because of their stellar bullpen.
The Mets collected 13 hits, none of them over the fence. Brandon Nimmo, who has become the de facto leadoff hitter and left fielder in Cespedes’s absence, had a career-high four hits and scored two runs. Behind him, Asdrubal Cabrera, the Mets’ steadiest hitter this season, smacked a key two-run double in the fifth inning against Brewers starter Zach Davies.
Wilmer Flores, who has been playing third base the most while Frazier recovers from a hamstring injury, provided the Mets’ fourth run of the day with a single that scored Cabrera in the fifth inning. And after four tight innings, Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz had that magical breathing room.
Earlier on Thursday, Mets Manager Mickey Callaway had argued that the team’s pitching staff, specifically the bullpen, had performed well despite the little room for error.
“We’ve got to score more runs,” he said, adding later, “One of the things that takes its toll on pitchers more than anything — more than usage and more than innings pitched — is stressful innings.”
In all, Matz fired six innings and didn’t allow a run in a start for the first time since last July. He surrendered four hits and three walks, and hit a batter, yet wriggled out of jams.
It capped a superb turn through the Mets rotation in which they allowed only two earned runs over 31 innings. After inconsistencies by various starting pitchers, the ballyhooed foundation of the team, each pitcher in the Mets’ rotation delivered.
Pitching, however, has generally not been the problem of late: Entering Thursday, their offense was averaging only four runs per game, which ranked in the bottom third in baseball. The absence of Cespedes and Frazier has hurt. Both took batting practice on Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, and Frazier ran for the first time since landing on the disabled list on May 8. The timetable for their returns was unclear.
But even when both were in the lineup, the Mets, a team built around power, were hitting fewer home runs than they had in the past three seasons.
The Mets’ offensive malaise has confounded their coaches, who met again before Thursday’s game following a series in which their club produced just four runs in three games against one of the worst teams in baseball, the Miami Marlins, and lost twice.
They have tinkered with the team’s batting practice routine, cutting down on swings and adding more game-specific drills. But to change their offensive profile — to steal more bases and hit and run — would require a change in personnel. Callaway suggested, however, that the team be more patient at the plate and draw more walks. The Mets drew four walks on Thursday.
“The bottom line,” he said, “whether you’re pressing or the opposing team has changed the way they’ve pitched to us, we have to make the adjustment back and go out there and relax and score some runs.”