One day after difficult Robinson Cano decision, Buck Showalter and Mets prove it was the right one

One day after difficult Robinson Cano decision, Buck Showalter and Mets prove it was the right one

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Buck Showalter up close smiling with sunglasses on

In the end, it was another “Yes, we’re for real” statement for Buck Showalter’s Mets in this young season, sweeping a doubleheader from the World Champs. But even more than that, it was a day that in many ways served as evidence Steve Cohen was right for eating the $40 million contract on Robinson Cano.

In that sense this now feels more like a Showalter team than ever, as these Mets continue to find ways to win while utilizing the entire roster, enabling the manager to move the chess pieces around the board as he sees fit.

Travis Jankowski and Luis Guillorme played major roles in the opener, a 5-4 win, and then Dom Smith delivered the biggest hit of the 3-0 win in the nightcap. Each of those players that could have been sent to the minors rather than Cano had the Mets had decided to hope an aging, one-dimensional player eventually found some life in his bat.

Instead Showalter is making good on his declaration in spring training that roster versatility would be vital to success this season.

“We talked about it in the spring and it’s been fun to follow through on it,” the manager said. “I look at them as regular irregulars. And at some point during the season we’re going to need them to be regulars, and shame on us if we don’t play them enough to have them ready for that.”

Translation: This is the way Showalter likes to manage, mixing and matching, keeping everybody involved, getting players to buy in to the team concept.

Winning makes that easier, of course, and this 18-8 start hasn’t hurt Showalter’s credibility, put it that way.

May 3, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets center fielder Travis Jankowski (16) runs out an infield single against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning at Citi Field.

May 3, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets center fielder Travis Jankowski (16) runs out an infield single against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning at Citi Field.

Give GM Billy Eppler credit as well, because it appears his decision to bring in veteran players like Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Starling Marte has been important in changing the Mets’ style of play.

So far, in fact, it appears they’re built to succeed with defense, athleticism and contact-hitting being much more of the formula than in recent years, to go with dominant starting pitching that featured Carlos Carrasco throwing a gem in Tuesday’s nightcap, and perhaps even a re-emergence of Edwin Diaz as one of the best closers in the majors.

“It’s a pretty fundamentally sound team,” an NL scout told me at Citi Field. “I think they might need a little more power but they can beat you in a lot of ways. Buck can take advantage of that with the way he prepares and the way he sees the game.”

As such Showalter was practically giddy between games after watching Jankowski be the catalyst in the win, helping generate much of the offense with his speed.

“He was excited as a guy going to his first game in Little League, playing today and leading off,” Showalter said. “Guys like him and Guillorme, they bring it in these situations like this.

“Trav’s been a pro. That’s why we wanted to keep him. He brings some tools that we need. He’s a great piece for us.”

It wasn’t hard to read between the lines there regarding the Cano situation. And indeed, as one Mets person told me, “It wasn’t a hard call on the baseball end at all. This is who we are.”

It helps that Mets’ fans very much agree, judging by reaction on social media, and then in person at Citi Field, as the crowd gave Smith a big ovation as he came to the plate in the first inning of the nightcap – a clear way of saying the Mets made the right decision.

Apr 25, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; New York Mets pinch hitter Dominic Smith (2) celebrates with shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after driving in two runs on a single and scoring against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 25, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; New York Mets pinch hitter Dominic Smith (2) celebrates with shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after driving in two runs on a single and scoring against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

What stands out, especially after the last couple of underachieving seasons, is the way the Mets are pushing the envelope offensively with speed and aggressive baserunning, and putting the ball in play to move runners along or score runs.

What’s fascinating is that this could be shaping up as quite a contrast in styles between the Mets and Braves, with the NL East title at stake.

Braves’ power vs. Mets’ all-around play? At 11-15 the Braves haven’t played well overall, perhaps dealing with a championship hangover, but they do lead the NL with 30 home runs, including a three-run shot by Matt Olson in game one that made it a tight finish.

In any case, the Mets know better than to think the Braves won’t get it going, especially after their strong second half last year even without Ronald Acuna Jr. produced not only a fourth straight division title but their first championship since 1995.

“The Braves have looked flat but they’re going to be scary offensively when Acuna (just back from ACL surgery) gets comfortable again,” the scout said. “It’s hard to replace (Freddie) Freeman but Olson comes pretty close. And (Austin) Riley is almost an under-the-radar superstar. That’s a very dangerous lineup.”

Last year the Mets had a chance to bury Atlanta early and couldn’t do it, mostly due to their offensive futility, but so far at least. this team is proving to be much more efficient, with hitters aggressive in run-scoring situations and much more adept at making contact when it matters.

Mets people are convinced that much of it has to do with the elimination of the information overload their analytics people were feeding hitters every day, causing them to overthink pitchers’ tendencies rather than rely on their instincts.

“It was classic paralysis by analysis,” one Mets person said. “Hiring (Eric) Chavez (as hitting coach) was the right move to free guys up again. He’s a guy who’s been there, done that, and sometimes all major-league hitters want is a guy who will send them up there with a general plan of attack and some confidence.

“Bringing in some veterans has helped, but you’re seeing what confidence can do for guys like (Jeff) McNeil and Dom.”

On Tuesday it was part of the formula that added up to these Mets making still another early-season statement, this one in classic Showalter style. Perhaps no coincidence, it came a day after the owner made an impressive statement of his own.

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