NEW YORK -- All right, admit it: You hope David Wright is hurting. You'd rather that a couple of maladies be the underlying reasons for the underwhelming production of the Mets' third baseman this season rather than suppose that he is healthy and nonetheless producing at rates comparable to those of a third-base predecessor named Richie Hebner (see 1979).
The latter scenario is unsettling to the Mets and those who follow their adventures, and particularly troubling for the folks in the front office. What if, when this season ends, Wright has a batting average and other more critical measurements of his production that are more comparable to those of Roy Staiger (third baseman, 1976 Mets) than those third baseman Howard Johnson created in his 30-30 years? What then if Wright still insists that injuries played no part in a season of disappointing performance?
It is a sobering thought. Whatever stage of renaissance the Mets have reached at this point, legitimate and conspicuous improvement is unfathomable without greater contributions from their third baseman and the acquisition of a right-handed bat with the sort of pop that Wright routinely demonstrated through 2012.
Eliminating all benefits of the doubt and the softer wording usually afforded Wright, he ain't cutting it these days. Mets manager Terry Collins expressed concern about Wright's lack of production earlier this summer. And Wright hasn't pleaded innocent in that regard. After a fruitless day at the office Monday -- he was hitless in four at-bats in the Mets' 4-1 loss to the Cubs at Citi Field -- Wright said, "Obviously, my numbers are not where I'd like them to be."
What Wright never explained was why, leaving his constituency to wonder and hope injury has been his undoing.
Wright's .270 batting average, .329 on-base percentage and .377 slugging percentage are ... well, below average for a third baseman and well below the standards he established for himself. Among the 125 big league players who, through Sunday, had hit more home runs that Wright -- he had eight -- were such notable sluggers as Cubs third basemen Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena, Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, Astros first baseman Jon Singleton and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal. All but Dominguez had significantly fewer at-bats than Wright.
The Cubs' heralded rookie Javier Baez hit his fifth home on Monday. He has 60 at-bats.
An element of the problems that have beset Wright and made him less of an offensive threat still involves the dimensions of Citi Field, seemingly designed, even after the alterations that preceded the 2012 season, to offset his power. The distance to the right-center-field fence in Citi Field remains a head scratcher.
The lack of genuine protection in a mostly defused batting order is another reason. Lucas Duda, even with his 22 home runs, is nowhere near the deterrent Carlos Delgado was in the years Wright was a legitimate National League MVP Award candidate. But there has to be more to Wright's season than home environment and the prowess of those following him in the order.
No one will be surprised if, come Oct. 1, the Mets announce that Wright has undergone successful surgery to repair his left shoulder or another critical body part. Collins reiterated on Monday that no part of Wright's body is structurally damaged. But no matter how much he now denies the impact of injury, Wright remains one of the game's primary stoics, a man unwilling to say "ouch."
Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter, two of Wright's role models, have denied and silently dealt with injuries. It is noble to assume that posture, but it also can be costly for a team. The term "rally killer" has been applied to Wright of late. Difficult to imagine that. Would the Mets be better off were Wright to excuse himself from the remaining games, heal and allow a healthier body to take his place?
Probably not. Their roster is so thin that Collins used Jon Niese as a pinch-hitter with the Mets leading by a run and two outs in the fifth inning Monday.
And -- have you noticed? -- Wright's age now finds its way into newspaper and Internet reports more often than it has for most of his career. It is journalism code for "he might be showing his age." For now, he is properly identified as 31. Come Dec. 20, if Wright's production doesn't improve in the remaining 32 games and he stands by his "I'm fine" declarations, he may be described as an "old 32." More difficult to imagine.
But if Wright is, as he says, healthy enough to play, then to what other reason can we attribute his decline and this long lapse in extra-base and run production? Keith Hernandez, an astute observer of batters' mechanics, insists Wright's swing is long, that the third baseman isn't quick to the pitch as he was even three years ago. A former Met who now plays for a different club recently noted that Wright can't drive pitches to right-center as he has in the past.
Moreover, a school of thought exists that Wright still is unsettled by tight pitches, a long-lasting and quite understandable effect of being beaned by Matt Cain five years and three days ago.
Wright played Monday after missing the Sunday loss to the Cubs because of pain in his left shoulder. He had been hit in the shoulder by a pitch thrown by Dan Straily on Saturday. The pitch pinpointed the area that Wright had claimed no longer was a problem. But it probably was. So hope does exist. The shoulder is an issue after all, even if he won't acknowledge it. "If I'm in the lineup, I expect to produce," is as much as Wright would allow on Monday.
So, to some degree and in a strange way, the Mets can relax. Wright is hurting and was hurting even before Straily's pitch bruised his already bruised left rotator cuff. With road series against the A's and Dodgers next on the Mets' agenda, pain in Wright's left shoulder is about as positive a piece of news as the club is likely to get for a while.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less