There are a number of different reasons why these Mets are well-equipped to maintain their grip on first place in the NL East this season, unlike a year ago.
Right near the top of that list?
A very different Francisco Lindor.
Just as the Mets are in a better place — thanks to a vastly improved roster, new front office and Buck Showalter’s steadying influence at the helm — so is Lindor, whose transformation from skittish Cleveland transplant to thriving New Yorker seems nearly complete after his occasionally turbulent 16 months in Flushing.
Lindor clearly is hitting his stride, and the five-time All-Star is playing to that reputation (though it pained him to miss this year’s Midsummer Classic). He entered Thursday night’s showdown with Atlanta batting .315 (35-for-111) since July 1 with seven homers, 18 RBIs and a .960 OPS over those 28 games. Lindor also is tied for second in the majors with 20 go-ahead RBIs, behind Pete Alonso (25).
As for what’s behind those stats, it’s no coincidence that before the start of a pivotal five-game series with the defending world champs, Lindor looked as comfortable in his corner locker as the Met who occupied it before him — the former captain, David Wright.
Lindor was wearing an FDNY T-shirt from a Brooklyn firehouse, and next month plans to wear specially designed gloves representing each of the city’s first-responder agencies for the game on 9/11 (which later will be auctioned off to benefit those groups). But that’s just part of strengthening his bond with New York and the Mets, a process that Lindor has been going through since his bumpy debut season, fresh off that 10-year, $341 million contract.
“It’s a great city,” Lindor told Newsday. “I’ve learned to be a better person, and more mature. But if you’re definitely a person that feels things, and feeds off the people, and the energy and the atmosphere, it’s going to take some time. That’s what it is.”
Lindor describes himself in that way, and everything from last season, all of that attention, became a lot to absorb in one blast, like drinking from a fire hose. It kind of knocked Lindor off his axis, and with the organization still in its formative stages trying to figure things out under first-year owner Steve Cohen, the unsettled situation made it feel like the ground was always moving under their feet.
“There were a lot of professional people, but they were new, they were insecure because they didn’t know if they really had their jobs, they didn’t know their actual roles,” Lindor said. “So it was very wavy. This year, everyone knows their roles. And it shows.”
Manager Luis Rojas never fit in his second year, the Mets replaced coaches and went through two GMs in a matter of months. It’s tough for any team to succeed amid all that instability, and ultimately the Mets disintegrated in the second half. Lindor started to come around after missing six weeks with an oblique strain, but also got into trouble — along with his good buddy Javy Baez — for the thumbs-down fiasco involving the fans.
Lindor admits that he still struggles with compartmentalizing things in his life, and negative emotions from some areas can bleed over into others, as well as the positive ones. He tends to get caught up in that sometimes, but always tries to lean toward the sunnier side, hence the nickname, “Mr. Smile.”
“I feed off vibes,” Lindor said. “I want the world to be happy. I want the world to be at peace. I don’t want war. I don’t want sickness. I want people to live life at their best, you know? Whenever I’m not, I know I spread it around. I’m not saying every day is going to be great, but that’s just life I guess.”
From a baseball perspective, life is pretty great for Lindor at the moment, with a 10-game hitting streak (.421 BA, three HRs, .500 OBP, .763 SLG) and the Mets holding a 3 1/2-game lead over Atlanta in the division. With 74 RBIs in the first 103 games — 72 as a shortstop — he’s closing fast on the Mets' single-season record for the position, held by Jose Reyes (81 in 2006). Lindor also ranks 11th in the majors and seventh in the NL with a 4.3 fWAR. To him, it’s no mystery that it took him his second season with the Mets to get there.
“Last year I was facing new people, over and over,” said Lindor, who jumped from the AL Central. “This year, having more notes and understanding things. Talking to more people, my teammates, the coaching staff, it’s helped me a lot. It’s not about just myself. Feeling a little more comfortable makes it easier to focus on hitting the baseball.”
And easier to smile, both for Lindor and the crowds at Citi Field, where the All-Star shortstop is surfing those vibes again, only way more good than bad. What a difference a year makes.