In their six-game homestand that ended at the beginning of June, the New York Mets continued to display inconsistency, sweeping the rival Philadelphia Phillies in three games before the Toronto Blue Jays swept them in three.
Yet, veteran outfielder Starling Marte remained confident that the Mets will put it all together because this is still a team coming off a 101-win season, the second-most in franchise history.
“We have everything. We have the talent. We have speed, power, everything,” Marte told The Game Day Baseball. “I remember last year when we were in first place every day. We were healthy. We played well. We trust who we are and what we can do.”
New York did spend 175 days in first place last season. While fans have been frustrated by the team’s .500 showing so far, they can attempt to draw inspiration from the last two National League championship teams.
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The 2022 Phillies rebounded from a 21-29 start to earn a wild-card berth and go on a surprising run to win the National League pennant. The 2021 Braves were a game under .500 at the All-Star break.
If the Mets are going to improve their outlook, Marte will be a very important part of the process. He hit .195 in April, but over the past month, we have seen more of the real Marte, as he has hit .287 with eight stolen bases, 12 runs scored, two home runs, and nine RBI.
The two-time All-Star has been a significant all-around threat since he arrived in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012. Yet, he is still playing at a high level at an age where many players who rely on their speed and athleticism are beginning to decline.
Marte said he is a different player now than he was earlier in his career with Pittsburgh, as his previous 11 seasons of MLB service have helped him sustain success.
“I would like to say experience,” Marte said when asked what is different about him now as compared to earlier in his career. “I have learned more of the game. The game has shown me everything.
“When I was young, 10 years ago, I didn’t have the experience, I had to trust what was said to me, and when I was talked to about how to get better. But now, I’ve put everything together, and I can say I’m a better player with more experience. I know more about the game.”
If New York starts to get better on offense soon, its base-stealing prowess may be highlighted more. The Mets lead the majors with an 87.5% stolen base success rate.
- Read Scott’s piece on the Tampa Bay Rays‘ offensive outburst.
Marte is the band leader on the basepaths, as he is tied for second in the National League in stolen bases with 17 in 55 games, one short of his 2022 season total in 118 games.
With 427 career steals, Marte is second on the all-time stolen base list among active players. He said staying healthy is a primary reason why he has been off to a good start in the SB department, and he has been more in attack mode as a baserunner overall.
“It’s about staying healthy,’ Marte said. “If I’m not healthy, I can’t steal bases. When I am healthy, I can take one, two, or three more bases. It’s about being more aggressive and trying to get another base to [score] a run.”
In 2022, Marte went on the injured list with an oblique injury, missed more time with a groin issue, and a fractured finger cost him the final four weeks of the regular season. Not having Marte available certainly impacted the Mets’ offense late last season, but now they again have the version of him that led MLB with 47 steals in 2021.
This season, Marte has even more reasons to be opportunistic on the basepaths. This offseason, new MLB rules limited pitcher pickoff throws to two and installed larger bases around the diamond. However, he said the changes to the game have not altered his approach significantly, as battling the pitcher is still the same in the end.
“We know the pitcher can [throw over] two times and if we get another one, we get a free base,” Marte said. “But after they throw over two times, they concentrate more on holding the ball.”
“I think they help a little bit,” Marte said of the larger bases. “We know they are bigger, but it’s [mostly] the same. We can make an out, too. They try to throw more fastballs, because when they know the runner is very fast, they try to be quick.”
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Marte’s value is evident on offense, and he is also an asset in the clubhouse. As a highly experienced performer, he has also arrived at the point in his career where his experience can greatly help the key young players that the Mets are leaning on to bolster their outlook.
Marte is a willing tutor to his younger teammates, including Francisco Álvarez and Mark Vientos, but he and the other veterans also give them room to grow on their own in terms of approaches.
“I work with them only when they ask,” Marte said. “When I see something, I can tell them ‘Hey, calm down a little bit. That’s too aggressive. Don’t lose that, but just think about it, you know?’”
Looking back on the earliest years of his career in Pittsburgh, Marte recalled how Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen helped him adjust to MLB life.
“Andrew McCutchen is a player that everyone wants to be, a great player and a great person,” Marte said. “In the outfield, in the dugout, I got a lot [from] him. He’s a guy that likes to help others.”
One of the biggest influences in Marte’s career has been one of his favorite baseball players growing up in the Dominican Republic. The native of Santo Domingo greatly admired Vladimir Guerrero, who hailed from Nizao, and Marte first met the father of the current Blue Jays’ standout in the Dominican Republic.
“I told him one time, ‘you’re my favorite player.’ I like to think I’m the same kind of player he was, an aggressive guy, as a player, especially in the outfield,” Marte said. “Since then, we’ve had a good relationship and he has helped me a lot.”
At this point of his baseball journey, Marte has not stopped being aggressive. If one chooses to focus on positives from the first two-plus months of the Mets’ 2023 season, the recent return to form and continued availability of the two-time Gold Glover and top baserunning threat can be a key to any success for the remainder of the season.
Marte reiterated that his decade-plus years of seasoning will remain an advantage as he continues to be guileful. He now knows that experience is just as important as athletic ability and technique, while always being open to more feedback, too.
“It’s about trusting what I can do, and having trust in my coaches, too.”