The New York Mets have floundered in recent weeks, and the causes have been many. Poor situational hitting; injuries to numerous key players; ill-timed defensive miscues. Despite a run differential that’s nearly even, a first baseman (Lucas Duda) who’s among the league leaders in hard-hit balls, a perennial All-Star at third base (David Wright), one of the league leaders in hits (Daniel Murphy) and the best defensive outfielder in the National League (Juan Lagares), the Mets have a horrendous record in one-run games and are the league leaders in losses in which they’ve held the lead. They often start games with small outbursts, but fail to score that game-breaking run or continue scoring once the opposing pitcher settles in. Part of the problem is their lack of lineup consistency — and the fact that they continue to put the key players in the wrong spots.
Let Lagares breathe
First, the Mets waited far too long to give an everyday spot to the best defensive outfielder in the National League, despite the fact that he’d spent the year hitting well and hustling on the bases. When he returned from a DL stint due to an intercostal strain, they took their time phasing him back into the everyday lineup. And when they did put him in the lineup, they buried him at seventh or eighth instead of sixth, first or second, where he might have a real impact. Compounding the matter, they often gave his spot to the flailing Chris Young, an honorable-try-hard guy whose swing is full of holes and tends to be all-or-nothing at the plate.
Move Tejada back to 7 or 8
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Ruben Tejada has been a breath of fresh air lately, as he’s finally seemed to relax in the field and at the plate. He’s producing line drives, putting together good at bats, and he’s 15 for his last 48. He’s also been hitting second in the order intermittently. I’ve been a Ruben Tejada apologist for some time, and I think he can be a serviceable option if the Mets continue to build on their pitching and at other positions. But he’s not the Mets’ best option for the two-hole. That would be the aforementioned Lagares, or high-contact doubles hitter Daniel Murphy — who should also be considered for fifth, which brings me to the matter of cleanup.
Leave Duda at cleanup
Those of you who read my column know that I’ve been a Lucas Duda enthusiast ever since I rightly hopped off the Ike Davis bandwagon (yes, I must admit I was in the “I like Ike” brigade for a his first season and a half). Duda has enormous natural power, a good eye at the plate and an ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’s among the National League’s leaders in hard-hit balls, and of late, he’s become more assertive at the plate and put more pressure on the folks trying to get him out. Duda is 13 for his last 42, and he’s the only Mets player with a season OPS over .800. He’s on pace for 24 home runs and 84 RBI, despite being buried in the order and stuck in ill-advised platoon situations for too much of the spring. As he continues to get more confident, his raw power will continue to emerge, and his drives to left and left-center will force teams to abandon the shift. He’s a better option than a lot of teams have at cleanup, and in a more well crafted lineup, he’d have even more chances to produce runs.
No more Granderson at cleanup
Curtis Granderson batted cleanup at Yankee Stadium with some success, because Yankee Stadium is a lefty pull-hitter’s dream. When he was successful in Detroit, it was batting leadoff. Grandy has a good eye and takes walks, he has the speed and hustle to hit leadoff and he has the type of power that amounts to found money when starting off a game or an inning. He does not, however, have the type of power to effectively hit cleanup at Citi Field. When he tries to hit with that kind of power, it results in terrible at-bats and non-productive outs. When he bats leadoff and uses a line-drive approach, he shoots the gaps and is a doubles threat, and his occasional home runs are an added blessing. I’d rather see Grandy batting sixth, behind Wright, Duda and Murphy (or Murphy, Duda and Wright? But I digress), because the Mets have another player who, despite his flaws, is their best option to hit leadoff.
Leave Eric Young at leadoff
Eric Young Jr is a catalyst. He’s fast, he hustles his butt off, and when he’s in the lineup, the team seems energized and good things seem to happen. His defensive mediocrity is less of a problem playing next to Lagares, and his closing speed allows him a bit more margin of error on balls in front of him.
Occasional lineup shuffling is understandable, especially to counter individual slumps or particularly unfavorable matchups. But allowing players to settle into their lineup positions, the kinds of situations they’ll face in those positions, and the way pitchers are tasked to respond to their lineup order, is crucial. My suggested lineup for the Mets going forward:
1. Eric Young, LF
2. Juan Lagares, CF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Lucas Duda, 1B
5. David Wright, 3B
6. Curtis Granderson, RF
7. Travis d’Arnaud, C
8. Ruben Tejada, SS
This would put players in the best position for their strengths, and alternate lefties and righties through most of the order — with a switch-hitter at the top. Chris Young and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are good power/speed options as extra outfielders, and Bobby Abreu is a professional hitter who can spot-start to alleviate matchup issues. If the Mets put their players in better positions to succeed, they would become less streaky and more prone to taking advantage of opportunities on offense. With their already strong pitching, this might allow them to bring their record in line with their run differential, and eventually improve on both.