Let’s start with the facts.
Francisco Lindor has a .238 batting average for the Mets, a team for which he’s played 220 games heading into this week’s Subway Series with the crosstown Yankees. His .741 OPS with the Mets is significantly lower than the .833 he put up in six years with Cleveland. He’s striking out more than ever, hitting fewer line drives, and, in his year and change with the Mets, slugging more than 50 points below his career average.
What he’s also doing is excelling in counting stats. His 66 RBI rank sixth in Major League Baseball as of Tuesday morning. He’s got 16 home runs, the second-most of any National League shortstop. Lindor is also one of just ten players so far this season to reach 15 homers and 10 stolen bases. By Wins Above Replacement — which is also a counting stat — the Mets’ shortstop is the tenth-most valuable player in the NL.
So why does it feel like the Mets, their fans, their front office, and Lindor himself are still waiting for him to regain the form he showed in the first six years of his illustrious career? Why does it feel like the return on investment hasn’t been there yet?
For one thing, a 10-year, $341 million contract is a pretty impossible standard to live up to. But also, with his first year in Flushing ending very unceremoniously, as the Mets went 29-45 after the All-Star break and Lindor missed a hefty chunk of July and August with injury, he still hasn’t really had his big Mets moment yet.
The closest thing was the three-homer game in a primetime home game on Sept. 12, 2021. Playing the same team that he’ll battle on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lindor homered off three different Yankee pitchers, collecting dingers from both sides of the plate. The final homer of the night put the Mets ahead for good in the bottom of the eighth, and also turned Citi Field into a madhouse, with fans leaping on to the dugout and waving a Puerto Rican flag as Lindor flexed his way around the bases.
That win, as cool as it was, only brought the Mets to 72-72. This year’s first installment of the Subway Series brings Lindor another chance to stunt on the Yankees, but also to leave his impact on much more meaningful games. After that delirious, four-hour affair, Mets’ manager Luis Rojas (who is now on the other side, serving as third base coach for the Yankees), made a prediction.
“This is the Francisco that we all expect, and this is the Francisco that the Mets fan base is going to get for years,” Rojas squawked.
“He put out a great performance,” Yankee skipper Aaron Boone added. “A great player finished off a great night and that ultimately was the difference. These games are huge, so it stings when you lose them, and pretty joyous when you get a win.”
That sentiment will certainly be true again for the next two days. Ascribing significance to a two-game interleague series in July might seem foolish, but for everyone on the field, these games will matter. While New York City bragging rights are always fun, both teams also need some wins to start feeling themselves again.
The Mets are fresh from a series loss to the Padres in which their bats took the first two-and-a-half games off, increasing the chatter about their need to bulk up at the trade deadline. The Yankees are 5-8 over their last 13 games and are losing relievers left and right to injury. Someone will have to rise up and make these games about them, doing something that sparks a rally and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.
Lindor is a great candidate for that, and if 2022 goes the way the Mets want it to, perhaps his performance during the Subway Series will go down as one of the best opening acts of the tour.