It’s hard to overstate this hot start for the Mets when they played the majority of their games against two of the worst teams in the National League. But there’s also no doubting the dramatic difference from a year ago in how much better they are playing baseball in all phases of the game.
Maybe it has to do with Buck Showalter‘s philosophy he underlined from day one. That is, do the little things well, pay attention to the details, and the big things will take care of themselves when you have a loaded list of talents.
It’s something the underperforming Mets of the past few years could never pull off, whether it’s making mental mistakes on base and in the field defensively or overthinking strikeouts with the bats. mice in clutch situations.
“They’re playing more accurate so far this year,” an NL scout said after watching the Mets beat the Diamondbacks 10-3 in Friday’s home opener at Citi Field. “It always gets better when a team wins, but you can see Buck’s influence in some little things.
“I have to think some of their guys needed a manager like him to believe in it and buy into it after the last few years. Watch (Francisco) Lindor. Buck was probably the right person to talk to him about what he went through last year and help him get back on track.
In truth, Lindor was a good bet to have a bounce-back season no matter who ran it. It’s an old story: the star player comes to New York, tries too hard to justify a mega-contract in year one, then relaxes in year two and beyond.
Perhaps that’s all there is to Lindor in this young season, as he got off to a strong start, hitting two homers on Friday and looking like the guy who made a name for himself as a superstar in Cleveland.
But it’s certainly worth noting that Showalter has repeatedly made a point of speaking publicly — and privately to players, I’m told — about how best to handle the New York factor.
He always credits David Conewhich he managed in 1995 with the Yankees, for something he has turned into his own motto, pointing out that no matter how tough New York fans can be sometimes, they are really dying for someone one gives them a reason to embrace the ball club again.
In the case of Friday, when the sold-out crowd at Citi Field was already emotionally amplified since the unveiling of the Tom Seaver statue ahead of the home opener, Showalter himself admitted to feeling some pressure to claim victory.
“You want to do something the fans are proud of,” he said. “It’s an electric place. There is a great sense of urgency with our fans. They are waiting to kiss you.
Regarding Lindor’s big day, Showalter said it again:
“Fans are waiting to hug you and he gave them something to hug.”
In some ways it might sound corny, sure, but Lindor probably needed to hear it after all his troubles last year, when he proved too sensitive to being booed and seemed to let it go. affect the way he plays, even whipping back with the thumbs-down gestures directed at fans by him and others.
Showalter knew everything when he took the job, of course. A Mets person said talking to Lindor and working on his mindset was “high on his list before spring training.”
Maybe it mattered, maybe not. After Friday’s game, Showalter made some kind of reference to all the talks he’d had with Lindor, but in typical fashion he gave his shortstop full credit for acknowledging the need to forget about 2021. and start fresh.
“He’s been very quietly on a mission since spring training,” the manager said. “He beat me to everything I was going to tell him.”
Maybe, but it’s hard to believe Showalter’s influence hasn’t helped Lindor gain a new mindset. It’s worth noting that the manager was keen to essentially say that Lindor is learning to relax and play, rather than thinking that his $341m deal means he should automatically be clubhouse frontman.
“He’s in a good position mentally and emotionally,” Showalter said. “He’s comfortable with the challenge of playing shortstop for the New York Mets and not having to be everything to everyone every second.
“What I love is that he really enjoys playing baseball. He’s engaged in competition all the time. It was just good to see him having a good day.
If this is just the start for Lindor, if he’s playing like a star again this season, then a lot is falling into place offensively for the Mets, especially with the veteran free agents they’ve brought in – Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobarand Marc Canha — all of which are tough and so far have helped change the futility that defined the Mets offense last season, especially with runners on base.
It’s worth noting, in fact, that Lindor indicated he was inspired watching Marte hit right in front of him in the fifth inning, battling to miss some tough pitches with two strikes in an eight-pitch at-bat that ended. finished by him. the middle.
“I won at bat in the circle on deck,” Lindor said. “I saw Marte cringe into her stick and said, ‘I have to do this. I have to stay inside baseball and give myself a chance.
In short, don’t try to do too much, which Lindor did so often last season. This time he was patient, worked the full count, and landed a thigh-high sinker that he punched through for the first of his two homers.
“Soft and relaxed,” the NL scout said of Lindor’s swing. “It’s a good sign for him and for them.”
Again, it was the Diamondbacks. It was Zach Davies on the mound. Still, even so early on, it seems significant that the Mets look like a winning team, especially with Lindor raising his game again.
And at least so far, it feels like the manager is a big part of that.