When the clubhouse doors swung open for the media at 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, it wasn’t that unusual to see Francisco Lindor talking with Buck Showalter at the shortstop’s corner locker.
The subject matter, however, was another story: childbirth.
Both being dads, they have some experience on the topic -- at least from the partner perspective. And with Lindor’s wife, Katia, expecting the couple’s second child later this month, it’s occupying a large chunk of his head space these days.
But with first pitch roughly four hours away, Lindor eventually had business to tend to, which for him typically means a handful of interviews before meetings and then batting practice. Rarely, if ever, does it involve a night off, as Lindor entered Wednesday having started all 55 of the Mets’ games to that point at shortstop.
No one in the majors has made more starts at the position. The Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette is next at 54, followed by the Rays’ Wander Franco and the Yankees’ rookie Anthony Volpe, each with 53. As the saying goes, the best ability for a player is availability, and by that standard, few measure up to the 29-year-old Lindor, who played 161 games last year, his second season in Flushing.
The one side effect of that endurance, however, can be diminishing returns, if fatigue ultimately comes into play. That didn’t seem to be a factor a year ago, with Lindor finishing ninth in the NL MVP voting, thanks in part to 26 homers and a career-best 107 RBIs. This season, Lindor is actually on pace to beat those numbers, projecting to 29 and 118 respectively, but he’s fallen off in other areas -- namely hitting 20 points below his career .275 average and dropping nearly 80 points off his career .812 OPS. Lindor’s 22% strikeout rate also is a few ticks above last year’s 18.8%.
That’s the tradeoff with Lindor, who is irreplaceable in the Mets’ up-the-middle defense, looking better than ever while insisting that the shift ban has helped him improve in that regard. Playing a high-impact position like shortstop should take more of a toll, but Lindor credits the Mets’ conditioning staff, as well as his at-home trainer and nutritionist. The faith of his manager helps as well.
“Buck trusting me, whenever I struggle or when I don’t struggle,” Lindor said before Wednesday night’s game against the Phillies. “He’s the one keeping me on the field because he can bench me at any time. I take a lot of pride in posting up every single day. Whether I do good or bad, I’m going to post up. I’m going to show up. Hopefully, more times than not, I’m going to succeed.”
That’s what the Mets were banking on by giving Lindor that 10-year, $341 million contract. By anyone’s accounting, that was an overpay by rookie owner Steve Cohen, who was anxious to rebrand his new purchase (with money no object) and Lindor benefited from the perfect storm in Flushing.
But a glance across the field during this Phillies’ series is a reminder that the pressure of massive contracts is real as Trea Turner, owner of a freshly minted 11-year, $300 million deal, is hitting .240 with a .662 OPS. And then there is Carlos Correa, who had agreements with the Giants ($350M) and Mets ($315M) collapse on medical concerns before signing an incentive-laden $200-million contract with the Twins. He’s already on the IL (plantar fasciitis) after hitting .211 with a .682 OPS.
As for Lindor, he’s been on a recent power bender, going deep in consecutive games for the second time this season and homering in three of his last four to bring his total to 10 on the season -- tied for second among MLB shortstops with the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. and behind only Bichette’s 11.
On Tuesday night, Lindor turned on a fastball from Phillies’ lefty Ranger Suarez, sending it into the leftfield seats to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. That solo shot was all Kodai Senga had to cling to for his seven one-hit innings, but Lindor expressed more appreciation for Brandon Nimmo’s homer-robbing catch of Nick Castellanos in the top of the fourth.
“That’s my type of game right there,” Lindor said. “I love it whenever we can play good defense and help the pitcher get out of innings. It’s fun. I like my home run, but I think Nimmo’s play was cooler. It’s just fun to watch guys do their things.”
And with the tying run at the plate in the ninth, Lindor also started the game-ending double play with Jeff McNeil, scooping up Bryson Stott’s sharply-struck grounder for the flip and turn. Again, Lindor directed the praise elsewhere.
“Jeff moved me there,” Lindor said. “He was like, hey, move a little bit. He’s trying to see [the pitch] deep, he’s trying to go the other way. Next thing you know, we got a double play. So little things like that -- that’s what winning teams do.”
As for Lindor’s perfect playing streak this season, that’s definitely going to come to an end when Katia gives birth in roughly three weeks. Then it’s paternity leave, apparently the only way to prevent Lindor from taking the field.
“I’ll be with my wife,” Lindor said, smiling at the thought.