WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — For the third straight day, the top of the Mets’ order on Monday was all left. But when the season begins, is that going to be all right?
Manager Mickey Callaway stacked Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto in the top four spots against lefthander Framber Valdez in a 6-3 loss to the Astros at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
The big question, though, is if the Mets have enough righthanded pop, especially with Todd Frazier and switch hitter Jed Lowrie injured and unlikely to be ready for the March 28 season opener at Washington, and Yoenis Cespedes out until at least midseason.
The Mets will face righthander Max Scherzer in the season opener. The Nationals have a lefthanded closer in Sean Doolittle, and it’s when they face a southpaw that Callaway’s lefty-stacking could become a problem. It also could lead to clubs using a lefthander as an opener for the first inning only.
“What’s going to happen is if we stack those guys, we’re going to have the right guys on the bench that if they want to make some kind of a move later on, we can counteract with that,” Callaway said. “I don’t think that’s out of the question at all.”
Cano and Conforto can stand in well against lefties. Both had a higher OPS against lefties than righties in 2018. But Nimmo and McNeil are unproven in that regard, and the projected Mets bench will carry more glovemen than feared hitters, especially if Pete Alonso is in the starting lineup or the minors.
At present, the projected bench (assuming Juan Lagares starts in center and Alonso wins the first-base job) includes J.D. Davis, Keon Broxton, Adeiny Hechavarria, Dominic Smith and either Travis d’Arnaud or Devin Mesoraco as the backup catcher.
Something tells us Doolittle won’t be shaking in his spikes to see any of that group as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. But Callaway said he thinks the Mets will be fine in that department.
“If all the lefties are in the game, then Alonso and Davis and those guys will be on the bench,” Callaway said. “So, yeah.”
Things will change when Lowrie and Frazier are healthy, but for now, Callaway will continue to run out his all-lefty top of the order.
“I think we need to get our guys out there,” Callaway said. “It’s about halfway through [spring training] and we want these guys to play together. You’ll see more and more of these guys because we want to get them geared up and ready for the season.”
If Callaway goes all left at the top and plays Alonso, then the regular lineup against righthanded starters will feature righthanded hitters in spots five through eight.
Against a lefthanded starter such as Washington’s Patrick Corbin, as it stands now, Davis definitely would play somewhere. Broxton could join Lagares and Conforto in the outfield or Callaway could stick with Nimmo.
Those options are why Callaway is starting his lefthanded hitters against lefthanded pitching in spring training, as he did on Sunday against St. Louis’ Austin Gomber and again on Monday.
“Our lefties need to be facing lefties,” Callaway said, “because we’re going to be counting on them during the season to be doing that.”
On Monday, the top four each faced Valdez twice and combined to go 2-for-7 with a walk. McNeil had an infield hit, Nimmo had an RBI single, Cano walked and Conforto grounded out twice.
On Sunday, every lefthanded hitter in the lineup, including Smith, did something positive against Gomber and lefty reliever Tommy Layne as the Mets put up seven runs in the first four innings en route to a 9-1 victory.
Brodie Van Wagenen is impressed. Before Monday’s game, the general manager posted on Twitter: “With 19 runs, 28 hits and only three runs allowed over the last two games, we are starting to get a glimpse of our potential!”
How the Mets’ projected top four hitters fared against lefthanders and righthanders in 2018 in OPS:
Player VS. RHP VS. LHP
Brandon Nimmo .946 .742
Jeff McNeil .866 .812
Robinson Cano .818 .893
Michael Conforto .792 .808