John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As bad as it got for the Mets on Monday, a night when they desperately needed to change the Mickey Callaway conversation, the outcome against the Phillies might have been different if they weren't so stubborn about hitting Robinson Cano third in the lineup.
In truth, based strictly on performance, Cano shouldn't be playing at all, considering the Mets have a guy hitting .339 whose natural position is second base.
If only management trusted what it had seen from Jeff McNeil over three months last year, then maybe the Mets wouldn't be in this bind, hoping against hope that Cano isn't as over-the-hill as he has looked so far in 2019.
The reality, however, is that Brodie Van Wagenen's former client is here and signed for big bucks over five years, so he's going to play. But that doesn't mean he has to bat third.
The guy is hitting .223 for cripes' sake, as Terry Collins might say. With only four home runs, a .361 slugging percentage, and, factoring in his defense that his far from his old Gold Glove-caliber, Cano's WAR of -0.8 is the lowest of any starting second baseman in the Majors.
So, yes, seventh or even eighth in the lineup seems about right at the moment. And if he doesn't like being dropped so low, maybe he'll be motivated to do something about it.
In the meantime, Cano is killing the Mets -- going 4-for-30 since returning from his quad injury, and 1-for-18 over his last five games. Even worse, he went 0-for-5 on Monday night while leaving seven runners on base, including the bases loaded with two outs in the second inning.
As bad as that all sounds, it doesn't tell how dramatically his failures affected the game. Consider, for example, that Pete Alonso, hitting in the No. 2 spot, reached base four times, and the four hitters following Cano in the lineup went a combined 10-for-18 with two walks.
Any kind of help from Cano and the Mets might have delivered a knockout punch early to a team that was already reeling from a seven-game losing streak.
Or as a major league scout who was in Philadelphia laid it out for me on Tuesday:
"Let's say Michael Conforto was hitting third and Cano was down in the lineup. Then (Zach) Eflin is probably out of the game in the fourth inning, the Mets have eight or nine runs by then, and Callaway manages the game a lot differently."
OK, well, that last part is arguable, considering the state of the Mets' bullpen. Callaway might still have left Steven Matz in to give up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings, but maybe he doesn't go to Brooks Pounders, or at least he doesn't leave the newcomer in to give up five runs in 1 2/3 innings.
In any case, the point is the Mets would have scored more runs if Cano wasn't killing rallies every couple of innings.
To be fair, he did hit a couple of line drives that were caught in the infield, but in his most important at-bat of the night in that bases loaded situation, Cano missed a couple of mistake pitches from Eflin.
Ahead in the count 2-1, he fouled off a 94-mph fastball thigh-high down the middle, and then with the count 3-2, he flied out weakly to center on hanging slider.
"He doesn't miss those when he's going good," the scout said. "Or at least he never did in the past. Now his bat looks a little slow. And he's always been a great off-speed hitter, but not this year. Sometimes when you feel you have to look fastball and maybe cheat on it to get the (bat) head out, you're more vulnerable to the off-speed.
"That could be what's going on with him. He just hasn't looked like the same guy. He always made it look easy because he was quick enough on a fastball on the inner half but he would also go the other way with a pitch on the outer third (of the plate).
"Maybe he'll find that stroke again, but he is 36, and he did have the PED thing last year. At this point I wouldn't bet on him."
That's exactly what Van Wagenen did, of course, raising eyebrows throughout the baseball industry with his willingness to take Cano at least partly as a way to land closer Edwin Diaz as well.
You wanted to give the GM the benefit of the doubt because he obviously knew his former client well, and trusted that the PED suspension wouldn't be a factor in the former Yankee being able to produce at a high level as he approached 40 years old.
Cano did come back for 41 games with the Mariners after the suspension last year, and looked like the same old Robbie. He hit .317 with a .363 on-base percentage and a .497 slugging percentage, adding up to an All-Star level .860 OPS.
It's fair to speculate now whether a year off from using PEDs, if that is indeed the case, is at least partly responsible for his drop-off this season.
"He's at an age where day-to-day recovery from the wear-and-tear on the body is a big part of being able to play at a high level," the NL scout said. "I'll tell you when he really looked old was on the play up the middle. He always made that underhand throw look easy with his arm strength and his flexibility, and he couldn't reach first with it.
"They scored it a hit but that's a play he used to make in his sleep, and the arm strength made up for a lack of range. So you have wonder how much longer he'll be able to play second base."
With that in mind, it's worth remembering that, at the time of the trade, the Mets let it be known they believed the DH would be adopted in the National League within a few years, meaning they'd have the option of using Cano simply for his offense.
Now they're faced with the alarming possibility that he doesn't have much left with the bat. And while you can understand that Van Wagenen isn't about to give up on his guy yet, he can't let his ego get in the way of such an obvious move:
Get Cano out of the No. 3 spot before it costs the Mets again.