The lineup combination Mets never saw coming
Jed Lowrie remains stashed in Florida, perhaps in the witness protection program under the name Ivan, which appropriately enough would give him the initials “IL.”
The Mets signed the veteran infielder last offseason as part of their flexibility plan, which would allow manager Mickey Callaway to rotate various pieces while maintaining team depth. At the time Pete Alonso was a great unknown, Dominic Smith an organizational holdover in limbo and J.D. Davis largely untested at the major league level.
But Lowrie, who arrived on a two-year deal worth $20 million, hasn’t played a game this season as he rehabs from a strained hamstring that followed a knee sprain. The Mets have adjusted, evolving along with the season.
Monday night they were scheduled to open the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium, and Callaway was celebrating the “cool” fact he could write Alonso, Smith and Davis into the same starting lineup for the first time this season. That was until the Yankees announced the game was postponed and a split doubleheader would be played Tuesday.
The flexibility Lowrie was supposed to bring as somebody who would play regularly in multiple infield positions had been transferred to Smith and Davis, in particular, who have rotated between corner infield spots and left field. Alonso, meanwhile, has emerged as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite as he continues on a pace to set the franchise record for homers in a season.
“We have got the whole young group going right now,” Davis said as he considered playing left field in The Bronx, with Smith at first and Alonso the DH. He also could have included Jeff McNeil starting at second base as Robinson Cano readies for a rehab assignment at Triple-A Syracuse.
“We talked about it when we saw the lineup,” Davis continued. “We were pretty excited about it, we were giving Pete a little bit of criticism, ‘Wow you are taking the DH spot and not letting [Wilson] Ramos get the DH, old man with knees back there for catcher.’ It was the first time all of us in the lineup together, so pretty cool.”
Though Davis has slumped in recent weeks after a hot start, he has become a trusted bat off the bench, particularly at Citi Field where he’s posted a .966 OPS this season.
With Todd Frazier on the injured list to begin the season — along with Lowrie — it was Davis who kept third base stabilized over the first month. Frazier has lately become unremovable as he carries a lineup that is producing at a consistent level. And so, Davis’ only real chance at playing time has come in left field against left-handed pitchers. Smith has received the opportunities in left field against righties, and his 1.041 OPS this season is the statistic that shines brightest.
As unpolished as they are away from their natural positions, Davis and Smith haven’t killed the Mets in left field.
“It’s interesting the way things are going, guys are way more versatile,” Davis said. “And I think it speaks for itself how guys are in here and when they get their name called, and whatever position or whatever spot in the lineup they are willing to go out there and compete and get the job done.”
Callaway’s real juggling act may come once Cano returns. Would the Mets consider moving McNeil to center or right field, allowing Smith and Davis to continue a platoon in left field — Michael Conforto would be the other component of that outfield — defense be damned?
We won’t even venture into the hypothetical of what might happen when Lowrie returns, just because it’s gotten to the point you wonder if he still exists as Jed or has morphed into Ivan Lowrie: IL for short.
The fact the Mets have developed other flexible lineup pieces in his absence could make that disappearance easier to accept.
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