Javier Báez heating up as Mets make postseason push

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Javier Baez rounds bases cropped 9/5/21
Javier Baez rounds bases cropped 9/5/21

Javier Báez's first month with the Mets was a rollercoaster, but he appears to be hitting his stride now.

Sunday's 13-6 road win over the Nationals, New York's seventh victory in eight games, was a strong example -- Baez went 4-for-4 with three RBI and two runs, fueling a five-game series victory for the Mets (69-68) against Washington (56-80) entering Monday's 1:05 p.m. finale.

"Sometimes, I struggle a lot," said Báez, who entered Sunday's game slashing .215/.262/.468 with five home runs and eight RBI in 22 games (20 starts) as a member of the Mets. "And it feels great -- it feels great to be hot at the plate right now and, hopefully, I keep it going."

Báez landed on the 10-day injured list midway through August with back spasms, leading to a 12-day absence. He was not performing well at the plate going into his recovery, highlighted by a .171/.216/.343 slash line with two home runs and three RBI through 10 games (nine starts).

But since returning Aug. 22, and despite a bumpy patch with his comments about the Mets' thumbs-down celebration being directed at fans, he has been noticeably better. In 13 games (12 starts), Báez is improved, adding three home runs and five RBI.

"The energy and the quality of the player, right -- the talent that he has," said manager Luis Rojas. "I think, from Day 1, when he showed up into the clubhouse, he can transmit a lot of good things -- his good vibes and all the things that he can do out on the field to help a team win. But one of the things that a lot of people have been talking about -- and, of course, we're aware -- is his approach at the plate and the chases, right, how much of a free-swinger he is and what we have here for a philosophy, just being aggressive in zone and not expanding too much. And I think that's what he did today. If he can control the zone like he did today, he's going to be a better offensive player. He laid off some pitches. He did chase a few times, but he laid off some pitches and he found a pitch in the zone and was able to drive it.

"But I think it's good to see. I think everyone saw him do that today. So that's a pretty good adjustment from what we've seen in less than a month, because he missed some time because of an injury. But since he's been here, it's just been consistently chasing. And that's something that he hasn't done, I'd say, the last couple of days. He hasn't really expanded as much. Really, really good at the plate. So all that he does on the defensive end, on the bases and now with his approach, I think everyone's pretty excited about it. He can make this lineup so deep. And I know we don't have Brandon Nimmo (but) we scored 13 runs today. And he'll be a great part of that sequencing, if he keeps upgrading the quality of his at-bats like that."

Three-and-a-half games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves (72-64) and second-place Philadelphia Phillies (70-66), the Mets need Báez to continue on his trajectory if they want a shot at the postseason. He hears Mets fans loud and clear on that front.

"We're trying," Báez said. "We're obviously trying. Like I said, I'm trying to bring my mentality here. And we'll see, we'll see when the last game comes and if we're out or we're in. Together, we've just got to go pitch by pitch and game by game and not just worry about first place or second place. It will come if we focus on that."