BOSTON -- Before the Mets’ latest loss, a 12-5 defeat to the Red Sox that shaved another game off their elimination number, shortstop Francisco Lindor was asked how much blame he should absorb for the team’s second-half unraveling. He paused for a moment to consider the question.
“I put a lot on me,” Lindor finally said. “Yes, I put a lot on me.”
Lindor is far from the only reason why a Mets team that spent 90 consecutive days in first place in the National League East is now staring at elimination from postseason contention as soon as this weekend. Wednesday’s game underscored that fact, on a night that saw starter Taijuan Walker bloat his second-half ERA to 7.74 while the Mets committed multiple errors and other blunders. But Lindor understands his culpability in part because of his own disappointing stat line, and in part because of the expectations attached to his $341 million contract.
“I felt like we had a really good team coming into this year,” Lindor said. “We have collapsed, and I haven’t performed, especially. I know if I would have played a little bit better, we could have won at least five to seven more games, which [means] we would be fighting for first place right now.”
As it is, the Mets are 73-79 with 10 games to play, meaning they’ll need to win at least eight of them to avoid their fourth losing season in the past five years. Mathematically, the Mets can be eliminated as soon as Saturday. If it doesn’t happen this weekend, it’s likely to take place next week at Citi Field, rendering New York’s final three games against the Braves meaningless in the standings.
But it didn’t have to be this way. Entering the season, the Mets believed they could accomplish significant glory with a roster that included two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, a prominent core of homegrown position players, and of course, Lindor -- the crown jewel of their offseason.
What they didn’t anticipate were the boos. As recently as the morning of June 2, Lindor was batting .194 while regularly hearing jeers from the home crowd. He became embroiled in controversy early in his tenure, when he tried to cover up a dugout fight with Jeff McNeil by saying the two were arguing over the identity of a rat or raccoon. He talked openly about his desire for fans to boo him less. He missed six weeks to a right oblique strain. Then, shortly after returning in August, Lindor had to issue a public apology after flashing thumbs-down gestures created as a way to “boo” his own fan base.
By that time, the Mets had nearly completed their plummet down the NL standings, all of which served to mask the fact that Lindor was once again hitting at his customary rates. With a 2-for-4 performance in Wednesday’s loss, Lindor improved to a .307/.418/.631 slash line over his last 18 games, with six home runs, 15 RBIs, 13 walks and 16 strikeouts over that stretch.
“I feel better at the plate,” Lindor said. “I haven’t really looked at the numbers. And if you look at our scoreboard every time late in September, numbers don’t really change much. So I don’t know; I just feel good. I feel like I’m helping the team, whether it’s with a quality at-bat or driving in runs -- which I didn’t do the first two or three months of the year.”
It hasn’t been enough to save the Mets; even the most optimistic of them, such as Pete Alonso -- who bashed his 35th homer on Wednesday -- admit that a playoff berth has grown “unlikely.” But Lindor’s hot stretch can at least provide hope that the Mets’ investment might yet bear fruit.
His presence remains significant for other reasons as well. Most notably, Lindor is a star player with owner Steve Cohen’s ear, potentially even with the potential to lobby for moves -- Javier Báez, anyone? -- that could affect the Mets in future seasons.
“I came here to win,” Lindor said. “It sucks that we’re not in that position where we are in first place. That sucks, for sure. But I think we’ve still got a little bit of fight left in us.”