Return of Carlos Beltran Just as Good as Midseason Pickup for Mets’ Playoff Run

As the trade deadline approaches and teams begin to work the phones in an attempt to make a big splash, the New York Mets may have already received the biggest addition of all without having to give anything up.

Carlos Beltran returned to the New York Mets’ lineup on Thursday after missing the entire first half of the season due to offseason knee surgery. He hit cleanup and started in center field as the Mets traveled to San Francisco for a date with the Giants.

The 33-year-old outfielder also missed 81 games last season due to a bone bruise in his right knee, causing some to forget about the perennial All-Star. But now Beltran is back and, more importantly, healthy, which could mean big things for the Mets moving forward.

After all, Beltran is a six-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. In fact, Beltran was an All-Star before his injury last season, and won the Gold Glove in his last full healthy season in 2008.

Angel Pagan has played well in Beltran’s absence, hitting .315 and stealing 19 bases, but Beltran has consistently proven since his 1999 Rookie of the Year season that he can be one of the game’s elite five-tool players when at 100 percent.

Beltran has collected over 20 stolen bases eight times, including 41 and 42 in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

While it may be unrealistic to expect him to run as often and with as much success as he did during his younger, pre-knee injury days, it is not unrealistic to think that he can still jack 25-plus home runs for a single season in the middle of the Mets’ order. He has accomplished that feat six times, including 41 in 2006, his season high.

There is sure to be a little rust for the center fielder who, prior to Thursday, hadn’t played in a game since last season. But once the kinks are worked out and Beltran returns to midseason form, the entire complexion of the Mets’ lineup changes.

With shortstop Jose Reyes set to return as well, the Mets finally will have the dangerous twosome in the lineup together for the first time since May 20 of last season.

In particular, Beltran’s return doesn’t bode well for the rest of the NL East. Three of the top six teams against which he has the highest batting average in his 12-year career are from the NL East (Braves, Nationals, Marlins).

Here is how he stacks up against all the NL East teams:

  • Atlanta Braves: 78 games, 17 home runs, 50 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, .313 batting average, .405 on-base percentage
  • Florida Marlins: 81 games, 18 home runs, 63 RBIs, 5 stolen bases, .303 average, .375 on-base percentage
  • Washington Nationals: 90 games, 19 home runs, 72 RBIs, 9 stolen bases, .310 average, .410 on-base percentage
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 92 games, 21 home runs, 72 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, .265 average, .337 on-base percentage

Beltran is a .283 career hitter with a .360 career on-base percentage, so his production against the Braves, Nationals and Marlins sticks out like a sore thumb. In addition, he has hit more home runs against the Mets’ four NL East opponents than any other teams.

Because the Mets will need to beat those teams down the stretch to earn a trip to the postseason, it will be vital for Beltran to continue his previous success.

History is on the Mets’ side. The slugging center fielder has a higher career batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS in the second half of the season than in the first half.

If the Mets are fortunate enough to play into October, Beltran has an even more impressive track record in the playoffs — hitting .366 with 11 home runs, 19 RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .485 on-base percentage in 22 career games.

Beltran may have lost a step or two due to injuries and age — time will tell — but teams will be hard-pressed to find a player of his caliber and with his resume as the July 31 deadline approaches.

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