BUFFALO — Polar Bears aren’t supposed to hibernate, but Pete Alonso spent much of August defying nature.
The Mets slugger largely disappeared, depriving his lineup of a knockout punch. Alonso — who received the “Polar Bear” nickname during his rookie season last year — is now back roaring at opponents.
Over his past seven games, he’s blasted five homers, which included an eighth-inning rocket that gave the Mets their final lead in a victory over the Orioles on Wednesday. A week earlier he smashed a walk-off homer to beat the Yankees. The signs suggest he is back after a slump that followed his epic 53-homer rookie season.
“He is starting to swing the bat like Petey,” Mets hitting coach Chili Davis told The Post on Thursday.
“When I look at Petey and any player of his caliber, you have to look at the big picture with him. You look at guys like [Christian] Yelich, he started off struggling and Anthony Rendon started off struggling. There’s a bunch of good players that started off this weird season struggling, and you have got to understand this season is different.”
The Mets have played 44 games, which on a normal schedule would have placed them around May 15 — a time traditionally for slow starters to begin showing their stuff. Now there are just two-plus weeks remaining in a pandemic-shortened season and Alonso appears on track as the Mets try to rally for a postseason berth. They entered Thursday two games behind the Marlins for the NL’s second wild-card berth.
Alonso’s 11 homers this year would put him on a pace to hit 41 in a normal season. It’s not the record-setting rookie display of last year, but hardly disastrous. Alonso was slashing only .213/.333/.385 with six homers when August concluded.
“I think Petey went through a few different phases so far in the short season,” Davis said. “Early in the year, I think he came out and he wanted to have a fast start and I think he tried to force some things to happen. It’s not easy coming off the type of year that he came off and into this type of season, the shortened season, and try to repeat some of the things you did last year.
“He came out maybe a little over-aggressive and then he went through another phase where he started taking pitches, trying to see the ball better, which made him probably a little bit passive. Guys were making pitches and getting ahead in the count on him and then after that he became a little more aggressive so he sort of reached that happy medium.”
Alonso is slashing .313/.361/.813 in September with only five strikeouts in 32 at-bats.
“I have been working incredibly hard just to have consistent results,” Alonso said. “Sometimes in the game of baseball you can work a lot of different things, improve and have the tangible results not be there. For everything to start to come together like this at the end of the season, in crunch time, I am really pleased with everything and my trajectory.”
Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith lately have carried a lineup that as of Thursday was leading MLB with a .275 batting average. The runners stranded on base by the Mets earlier in the season are getting knocked in, as evidenced by the 7.13 runs per game they are averaging in September.
“How many pitching staffs would like to have an offense that leads the league in hitting behind them?” Davis said. “Guys are starting to be themselves and I am sure for guys like [McNeil] and Petey that weren’t swinging like they felt they are capable of, it was frustrating and there was some frustration shown, but that is only because they care. They have finally have come out of it and they are swinging the bats a lot better as a team.”