by Paul West
For most of the season, the New York Mets have been a team that can strike both late in games in in bunches. During their current hot streak, Michael Conforto has come to life, while Amed Rosario continues his hot hitting (.339 in his last 34 games) and JD Davis continues to crush the ball.
All while their starting pitching has finally begun to pitch as advertised…and while Robinson Cano continues to clog the middle of the order.
Cano has one hit in 24 at bats since his three-homer came at Citi Field; and overall, he’s batting a worse-than-that-sounds .235 on the season. He’s arguably the slowest player in the lineup, and his legs are aged beyond his years–so much so that when he doesn’t conserve energy on the bases, he seems likely to sustain a lower body injury. Meanwhile–I repeat–the speedy, youthful Rosario is hitting .339 in his last 34 games, including numerous doubles and triples. He’s frequently buried in the lower third of the order, and in a different order, this could be explained as providing lineup balance and protection for the middle third.
In this lineup, it seems more inexcusable every game.
As of the end of tonights’s extra-innings wins, the Mets are sixth in the National League in home runs. They’re also ninth in runs, eighth in batting average, tenth in doubles, tenth in RBIs, and eighth in total bases. This is despite having their slowest, most injury-prone position player batting .235 while routinely hitting third or fourth. Imagine, if you will, the Mets’ already dangerous lineup reconfigured as such:
1: Rosario, SS
2: McNeil, RF
3: Conforto, CF
4: Alonso, 1B
5: Davis, LF
6: Ramos, C
7: Frazier, 3B
8: Cano, 2B
Cano has the game knowledge to produce effective at bats from the 8th spot in the order, and anything he does would be icing on the cake. His groundouts and flyouts would be more likely to be productive, and at the top of the order, Rosario’s speed would be tremendously valuable in front of McNeil, Conforto, and Alonso. Without middle-order pressure, Cano might even break out of his doldrums–and if he didn’t, well, .235 with occasional power isn’t bat for the spot in front of the pitcher.
The point of all this isn’t to say Cano hasn’t still got value as a player. Keeping him in the lineup is defensible, from the standpoint of his ability to turn double plays and his smooth, experienced decision making. Keeping him in the lineup would be defensible, if he wasn’t batting third or fourth.
If the Mets are really giving it a shot this season, a small lineup tweak could force-multiply their most dynamic hitters while allowing Cano to both play to his strengths and produce without the pressure of playing like his (apparently) former self.