NEW YORK -- If Daniel Murphy's return was not going to be a cure-all for the Mets, it was at least supposed to help. And certainly it still can. Coming off the disabled list Tuesday, Murphy hit two balls on the screws in a 1-for-4 day as the Mets' cleanup hitter, even making a fine play at third base.
But his teammates remained punchless in a 1-0 loss to the Cubs, their total holding steady at 22 runs in their last 12 games. The Mets put merely one man -- Murphy -- in scoring position all night, falling to 9-for-67 (.134) in such situations over that dozen-game stretch.
"I'm just going to try to have good at-bats," Murphy said earlier in the day, shortly after the Mets activated him and optioned Dilson Herrera to Triple-A Las Vegas, where the 21-year-old can receive regular playing time. "That's all I can control. Hopefully I can help lengthen the lineup up a little bit, but that's all I can control."
Manager Terry Collins was more direct, twice mentioning the All-Star Game appearance on Murphy's resume in referring to him as "the guy." As if to force the issue, Collins slotted Murphy -- typically a No. 2 hitter, but frequently No. 5 and sometimes in the leadoff conversation -- fourth in the lineup, a silent nod to who is not here. David Wright. Travis d'Arnaud. And now maybe Michael Cuddyer for a while, with the 36-year-old outfielder scheduling an appointment for an MRI upon feeling a twinge in his left knee.
For the Mets, who averaged a National League-worst 3.0 runs per game in Murphy's absence, the infielder's return was supposed to assuage at least some of those concerns. Murphy was by far the Mets' hottest hitter in the seven weeks leading up to his left quad strain, batting .346 with an .883 OPS from April 26 through June 4.
But he is only one man. And he can only do so much when the rest of the lineup is 2-for-26.
"I don't know how to answer it, I guess," Collins said after the game, in reference to the state of his offense. "We hit a few balls good. We're just not getting anything going."
Neither Wright nor d'Arnaud is due back anytime soon, and the loss of Cuddyer -- despite his own dark slump at the plate -- should only compound their absences.
How the Mets rebound from this will dictate their entire season.
"I can honestly tell you the offensive guys, the position players are not happy," Collins said. "Today, we had nine guys out there [hitting early]. They're working on things. They're just not getting it translated into games, and that's the most important thing. You've got to apply it. You've got to be able to take it into a game with you. If you can't apply it, all the practice you're doing is for naught."