When good offenses keep finding ways to win, as has been the Mets’ motto in their first two-plus weeks of the regular season, the limited holes in the lineup become glaring.
Such was the case in the Mets’ 6-5 win in 10 innings over the Diamondbacks on Friday at Chase Field. The Mets did their thing, which under the Buck Showalter regime means valuing a mix of small ball and smart plays. Three of the Amazin’s six runs in the series opener came by way of a sacrifice fly, an RBI groundout and an infield single. There’s a sense around most of the Mets’ new-look lineup, a unit that leads the majors in runs scored, that they’ll claw back or find a way to score.
And then there’s Robinson Cano, who was 0-for-10 until his ninth-inning single on Friday.
It’s getting tougher and tougher for Showalter to continue defending the team’s decision to put Cano in the lineup, let alone plug him in as the designated hitter while Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis both sit on the bench.
In the fourth inning on Friday, the Mets finally got their first baserunner against Zac Gallen thanks to Brandon Nimmo’s hustling leadoff double against the shift. Then Starling Marte drew a walk, Nimmo advanced to third on a Francisco Lindor forceout, and Pete Alonso drove Nimmo in on a well-placed RBI blooper to shallow right field. The Mets tied the game at 1-1, and they still had something cooking with one out and runners on first and second.
But after Eduardo Escobar popped out, Cano walked up to the plate carrying the baggage of a .100 batting average over his last six games. It took Gallen just three pitches —one cutter and two curveballs that landed in the dirt — to strike out Cano and kill the Mets’ threat.
It wasn’t just that that was Cano’s second strikeout of the night and eighth in his last 26 at-bats. It was that Cano is still getting reps at DH at all, hitting sixth, representing a huge rally killer right in front of Mark Canha and Jeff McNeil. Canha and McNeil have been on-base machines for the Mets, with the former flashing a .417 on-base percentage, ranked seventh-best in MLB and third-best in the NL (minimum of 30 plate appearances).
Cano has played in eight of the team’s first 15 games. He carried a .185/.241/.296 slashline, one home run, three RBI and two walks into his third stint as DH on Friday in Arizona. The 39-year-old has so far recorded a 41% chase rate, nearly matching his career worst 42% chase rate in 2020, with only a 54% chase contact rate, by far his worst since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Cano entered Friday sporting a -0.3 bWAR.
Even James McCann, who was hitting .120 over his first nine games, showed life on Friday when he cranked his first home run of the season. This was no cheapie — McCann’s two-run shot traveled 452 feet to left field and it even looked like he got the monkey off his back.
So yes, the Mets lineup is lengthened and deeper than previous years. The opportunity to do damage can come from just about anywhere in the lineup, but so far, one key spot is being wasted on Cano.
Another left-handed hitter in Smith, though struggling to break out at the plate after a hot spring training, has fewer plate appearances and at-bats than Cano. Like Smith, J.D. Davis also is depending on reps from DH to get his at-bats. Fourth outfielder Travis Jankowski, too, has shown his bat and speed on the basepaths are far more valuable than Cano at DH. When that spot is occupied by the slumping Cano, the Mets are selling themselves short to seemingly give a veteran has-been the chance to break out, at least in part because he’s signed through 2023 and is owed $20 million in each of his remaining two seasons.
The reality is Cano knows he’s on a short leash. If he doesn’t start producing — and soon — he could be off the roster as early as May 2, when rosters are trimmed from 28 men to 26. That will be GM Billy Eppler’s first such opportunity to show what his organization is about: cutting a struggling hitter who’s eating up roster space, or keeping him for his experience and so-called leadership in the clubhouse.
There is also the argument: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The Mets are 11-4 to begin the year, best in the NL East and the first team in MLB to reach 11 wins.
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