Mets could use more of this lefty-hitting dominance: Sherman

The Mets' left-handed hitters had a big game against the Yankees, and if hey can carry it over, it could lead to an NL East title.</p<

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If ya gotta believe in these Mets, then maybe it is 1973 again and high-end pitching, led by a historic ace at the Cy Young-winning peak of his powers, will carry them to an NL East title — and beyond.

But these Mets were not designed that way. They were built to hit, particularly from the left side — that’s the opposite of the right side, for any Yankees official unfamiliar with the concept. The plan was certainly not for Jacob deGrom to be the Mets’ best lefty hitter or for Billy McKinney to be included in the conversation.

It was for Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Dom Smith and the switch-hitting Francisco Lindor to serve as the cornerstone of perhaps the best offense in Mets history. Instead, the Mets arrived for the Subway Series opener averaging the majors’ second fewest runs this season.

Time for a history lesson. Only three teams have finished in the bottom three in runs scored and even made the playoffs (thanks to Lee Sinins of MLB Network research). That includes the 2020 Cardinals, who did it in a shortened season with expanded playoffs. The 1996 Dodgers did it as a wild card. The lone team to do it as a division winner and advance any playoff rounds were the 1973 Mets.

That Ya Gotta Believe crew was beset by positional injuries, notably to Cleon Jones and John Milner. They averaged 3.78 runs per game, the second fewest in the majors. But Tom Seaver won his second Cy Young and Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and George Stone served as apt wingmen and the Mets journeyed all the way to World Series Game 7 after winning just 82 games — tied for the fewest to win a division in a 162-game season.

Brandon Nimmo had three hits in the Mets’ 8-3 win over the Yankees.
Corey Sipkin

The NL East is again bad enough that the Mets can perhaps have a win total in the low-80s. But if they hit as they were expected — as they should — then the 90s and a probable easy run to a division title is possible.

The fact Nimmo returned Saturday, after missing two months with a finger injury, to help the Mets’ lefties excel against Jordan Montgomery was encouraging. Lefties were 9-for-60 off Montgomery, the second lowest batting average in the majors for that many lefty-vs.-lefty at-bats. But Nimmo and Smith combined to go 4-for-6 off Montgomery, keying the three-run fifth inning that knocked the Yankees starter out.

The Mets scored all eight of their runs in the fifth and sixth innings — more than they had scored in a whole game in nearly a month. Nimmo and Dom Smith were 4-for-4 in those frames, exclusively against lefty pitching. Smith had three RBIs. The duo combined for four runs. With the top of the lineup performing as hoped — Nimmo, Lindor and Smith teamed for eight hits, six runs and four RBIs — the Mets crushed the Yankees 8-3.

“I wonder if a little something new sparked us [Saturday],” Nimmo said of his presence in the lineup for the first time since May 2.

In many ways, this was a historical juxtaposition, with the Mets coming into Yankee Stadium with a lineup more built for the ballpark with a short right-field porch than the home team’s. The Yankees started eight righties against Mets righty Taijuan Walker, who held them without a hit until Aaron Judge homered with one out in the sixth (Walker and Marcus Stroman have done the Koosman/Matlack thing this year to deGrom’s Seaver).

The Yankees, meanwhile, attempted what has been deployed against them for much of their history: feeding lefty pitchers to try to defuse a lefty-doused lineup. Montgomery worked four scoreless innings through a lot of traffic, but only got one out in the fifth. He left with one run in and the bases loaded. Lucas Luetge relieved and permitted two inherited runners to score. It got worse in the sixth. Lefty Justin Wilson, a 2019-20 Met, faced five batters, all reached safely and all scored.

It was 8-0 as the Mets’ lefties did not capitalize on the dimensions with power, but with persistent hits — “a thousand cuts” in Nimmo’s words. The Mets had 14 hits, 13 singles and Smith’s two-run double that ended Wilson’s disaster and the Yankees’ procession of lefties. The Mets improved to 33-6 when they score four or more runs — their .846 winning percentage in that scenario is the NL’s best.

More than 40,000 fans filled The House That Ruth Built and watched as the visiting New York team showed up with the better lefty hitters than the home side. For a rare time in 2021, those lefties excelled, with Nimmo serving as a catalyst upon his return. It is becoming obvious that if this persists and the Mets score as envisioned, they will win. Lots of games. The NL East. Maybe more than that.

In that, ya gotta believe.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Joel Sherman

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