Mike Vorkunov, SNY.TV | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
On the continuum of worries for the Mets that could potentially sink this 2016 season, the ability -- or lack thereof -- to hit left-handed pitching is probably somewhere near the middle. It's not as menacing as the prospect of Matt Harvey being unable to find a way out of his first month funk, but more threatening than the idea that Rene Rivera could actually be the next Todd Hundley and create a playing time issue at catcher.
Still, the lineup's potency against lefties is a seemingly consistent question mark. There is always the spectre of one of its offensive pillars being undone by a southpaw. Last season there was Lucas Duda -- overblown -- and Curtis Granderson -- legitimate. Now, there is the Michael Conforto dilemma.
But for being one of the Mets' supposed larger warts, this year could provide some mitigating evidence. They are the beneficiaries of their division and their own construction.
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"You could probably count them on one hand in the National League East," Braves manager Freddy Gonzalez said of the left-handed starter scarcity.
The Braves don't have a single one in their rotation. Neither do the Phillies. The Nationals have Gonzalez. The Marlins have Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino -- None are particularly overpowering.
The numbers are actually staggering. Lefties have accounted for just six percent of all pitches thrown by Braves pitchers this year -- that was before Hunter Cervenka threw an inning Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field. Needless to say, that was a rare sighting. Philadelphia also sits in the bottom-10 in baseball in pitches thrown by lefties, Washington is 15th and the Marlins are sixth. The Cubs, who could be an October foe, are 22nd.
But if the Mets were suffering from a sample size issue, they'll get some repetitions over the next week. They are scheduled to face three left-handed starters on their upcoming road trip -- Drew Pomeranz in San Diego, then Scott Kazmir and Wood in Los Angeles.
To this point, the Mets offense has fared well against lefties. They sit eighth in baseball entering Wednesday with a .762 OPS -- an improvement on last season. Only four teams have had fewer plate appearances against lefties but they are tied for the 11th most home runs.
While it's obviously early to make any wholesale declarations, there are also some positive signs. Granderson -- who was a drastic problem spot last year -- has a .723 OPS in 20 plate appearances. Neil Walker has already clubbed three home runs.
Conforto, however, has become a glaring point of uncertainty. He has matured into the Mets' No. 3 hitter, with a sweet and destructive left-handed swing. But with little track record against lefties and poor results this season, he has to merit a spot in the lineup. If he plays over the upcoming week against those lefties, each start, he says will not be a proving ground.
"I feel confident," Conforto said. "If you don't feel confident up there you're losing the battle already. I feel confident up there and I want those opportunities. So we'll see what happens when Friday, Monday, Tuesday come around."
Still, he concedes that repetitions matter. And those have been too few for the Mets until this point. So the next week will provide more data and value.
"I'm not sure if it has an influence," Conforto said of whether it helps to face lefties more often. "I couldn't say really whether it does or not but I think you do get a little bit comfortable when you see them a little bit more. For me, personally, I think I'd be a little bit more comfortable if I got to see them a little more often."
But if the season to this point serves as an instruction, it won't be as big an issue as it may seem. The Mets are well-put-together to avoid the pitfalls of a lefty barreling through their lineup.
If Conforto has issues, Juan Lagares can be plugged into the game, improving the defense at the same time. David Wright, issues and all, feasts on left-handed pitching. By adding Asdrubal Cabrera and keeping Wilmer Flores, the roster has the depth it needs to not break down in these types of cases. If the Mets' offense breaks down it will be because of strong pitching, not because it is left-handed.
"I just try to take the mindset of 'I want to help the team win,'" Conforto said. "I don't want it to be a big deal -- Hey, there's a lefty on the mound and I'm playing today. I don't want that to be a big thing. I want it to be there's a guy on the mound, it's me and him, and it's one-on-one and let's so who wins. I want to be the guy who comes out on top."