Through his first 20 games in Queens, second baseman Neil Walker is tied for the major league lead in home runs and has led the team to half a game back of first place in the National League East.
After Daniel Murphy’s postseason heroics and subsequent departure last year, the Mets seemed hard pressed to find a suitable replacement. However, Walker has found a niche for himself with the Mets organization.
In 80 at-bats, Walker is hitting.300 with nine HR and 16 RBI. He is tied with Rockies’ infielder Trevor Story and Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper for the league lead in HR. When the Mets traded mainstay Jonathan Niese for Walker last offseason, they were expecting a serviceable infielder but not a record-setter.
Neil Walker hit his 9th HR on Wednesday, tying the Mets’ franchise record for HRs in April pic.twitter.com/pghxeIO4Oc
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 28, 2016
Walker’s nine bombs this month ties the Mets’ club record for home runs in April. The other players to accomplish this feat include Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013).
Also, as noted by the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN), the 30-year-old Walker is one HR shy of tying Chase Utley’s 2008 record for most the most longballs by a second baseman in April.
“Probably never been on a home run tear like this,” Walker said to NJ.com following the Mets’ 5-3 win over the Reds on Monday. “You have your stretches where you get hot… but never like this.”
While Murphy’s HR totals so far in 2016 pale in comparison, he’s also off to a torrid start with his new team. Through 19 games with the Nationals, “Murph” is batting.391 with two HR and nine RBI. Yet, during last year’s postseason, Murphy and his power-hitting carried the Mets.
Through 14 playoff games, Murphy hit seven HR, leading the Mets to the World Series. Despite losing to the Kansas City Royals in five games — a series where Murphy struggled at the plate and in the field — his name became a legendary part of Mets lore. He’s also taken some things that he learned last year over to his new digs.
“I think I was able to reap some of the benefits somewhat quickly,”Murphy said to the Washington Post about his adjustment of standing closer to home plate during his at-bats. “There’s an ebb and flow to every season. You adjust to pitchers and they adjust to you, because they’re really good, then you try to adjust back as quickly as possible.”
Daniel Murphy has reached base safely in 21 of his 36 plate appearances in 2016, including three 2B, two 3B & 2 HR. pic.twitter.com/Oace1eLXMg
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 16, 2016
Walker has followed suit with Murphy, taking guidance from hitting coach Kevin Long. Last season, the switch-hitting Walker hit zero HR as a right-handed batter. However, after making some adjustments — mainly getting rid of a toe tap in his batting stance — Walker is 7-for-14, with three HR as a right-handed hitter.
As ESPN mentions, those three HR as a righty ties Walker’s career high from that side of the plate (set in 2010 when he hit three HR in 112 at-bats).
“So far, it’s been a good point for me from a timing standpoint when I have a toe tap from the left side,” Walker said to ESPN about two weeks ago. “It was hard for me to maintain it from the right side for many years. Going into this last offseason, that was a big point for me… It’s gotten me into a much better rhythm than I have been in the past.”
Filling the void of popular stalwart seemed daunting but Walker has settled in just fine. As the Mets prepare to battle the San Francisco Giants this weekend, the team will hope for the same type of contributions from Walker.
But, the former Pittsburgh Pirate is not making it difficult on himself by trying to fill in somebody else’s shadow.
“I didn’t put any extra pressure on myself,” Walker said. “Obviously Murphy’s a great player and he moved on and he’s having a great year, but my job is to help this team win and to do my part.”
[Featured Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]