Before Game 3 of the World Series, Mets manager Terry Collins conferred with his coaching staff. At issue was whether to stick with Michael Conforto or play Juan Lagares. There wasn't much debate.
"This is the team that we've won with," said Collins, who kept Conforto in leftfield, with Yoenis Cespedes in center.
Using Lagares in center with Cespedes shifting to leftfield would have given the Mets a better defensive alignment. And in the postseason, Lagares had gotten better results at the plate than Conforto. But Collins said the decision was unanimous.
"It was 100 percent that we stayed with what got us here," said Collins, whose team brought a 9-3 lead into the eighth inning of Game 3 Friday night.
Conforto was 1-for-20 (.050) with a pair of sacrifice flies in the postseason before Friday night's game, his lone hit coming on a home run in the NLDS against the Dodgers. Collins said Conforto was the victim of some bad luck, with nothing to show for quality at-bats.
"He's hit the ball pretty good," Collins said. "Right now, he is one of a few guys that's not hitting. But he's hit the ball hard, he's hit it at some guys, he doesn't seem like he's rattled. He's not jumping at anything. He's just not getting any hits. So hopefully, tonight's when he breaks out."
Lagares, a Gold Glover, was 7-for-19 (.368) in the postseason heading into World Series Game 3 and would give the Mets a defensive upgrade in centerfield over Cespedes, an AL Gold Glove finalist as a leftfielder.
However, Collins said the alignment of Cespedes in center and Conforto in left has performed well at Citi Field. The manager also preferred to keep the lefthanded-hitting Conforto in the lineup because Royals starter Yordano Ventura has had more success against righties.
Righthanded hitters had a .658 OPS against Ventura and lefthanded hitters were at .734.
Collins said he also had another motivation to stay with the lineup that he used predominantly after Cespedes' acquisition from the Tigers just before the trade deadline.
"If you show panic now, it could spread throughout that clubhouse," Collins said. "So I'm not going to do that."
The Mets' offense stalled in the first two games of the World Series, recording a .165/.230/.203 slash line.
Of their 13 hits in the series, only one had gone for extra bases, a home run by Curtis Granderson. The Mets had 19 strikeouts and six walks.
"Right now, we need everybody to step up," Collins said.
Steven Matz will try to do just that when he pitches for the Mets in Game 4 Saturday night at Citi Field. "This is the dream," he said. "This is what you write up when you're playing Wiffle ball in the backyard."
But Matz alone won't be enough. Only two players in the regular lineup -- Lucas Duda (.444) and Daniel Murphy (.222) -- were hitting better than .200 in the first two games of the series. The Royals neutralized Murphy, the breakout star of the playoffs, by simply giving him fewer opportunities to do damage.
"He's taking what they're giving him, and they haven't given him a whole lot," hitting coach Kevin Long said.
Though Cespedes' left shoulder is still banged up, Collins said the injury has not impacted his ability to swing the bat. Cespedes was 1-for-10 in the first two games of the World Series.
"They're making good pitches on him," Collins said. "They're not giving him much to hit. They've got good scouts, too."
Mets captain David Wright is 2-for-11 and catcher Travis d'Arnaud is 1-for-9 without a walk.
"Every team, the middle of your lineup, is the main part to do your damage," Collins said. "And if they don't hit, it's tough to win."
Long insists that the lineup isn't far from turning around their fortunes. After Game 2 on Wednesday, the hitting coach chalked up the Mets' struggles to a superb game thrown by Johnny Cueto, who surrendered only one run on two hits in a complete game.
By his count, the Mets chased only six pitches out of the strike zone. They didn't get many opportunities for damage either, with Cueto throwing five pitches over the heart of the plate.
"As I looked through the at-bats," Long said, "there just wasn't many."