The Mets’ resident hit machine, Jeff McNeil, has a very real chance of becoming the franchise’s first NL batting champion since Jose Reyes last did it in 2011. As if having the highest batting average in the Senior Circuit wasn’t enough motivation for the Flying Squirrel, shortstop Francisco Lindor made him a promise earlier this season.
With just three games left on the schedule, it’s almost time for Lindor to put his money where his mouth is…literally.
New York was rained out on Monday night, with plans to play a doubleheader against the Nationals on Tuesday at Citi Field. While McHits couldn’t rack up any knocks, Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers went 0-for-4. That series of events currently gives McNeil a slight lead in the batting title race:
Good morning. Freddie Freeman went 0-for-4 last night meaning Jeff McNeil is the current leader for the batting title. pic.twitter.com/hGGsuGMeEg
— Michael Mayer (@michaelmayer22) October 4, 2022
You’re probably asking how Lindor factors into this whole equation. Back in May, Lindor told McNeil he’d buy him a car if he finished with the best batting average in the National League.
Francisco Lindor told Jeff McNeil in the clubhouse that he would buy him a car if McNeil wins the batting title. I told Lindor I have got it on tape. Said Lindor: "I didn't say what kind of car."
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) May 6, 2022
Since Lindor is the highest-paid player in Mets history, we can assume it won’t be a used Subaru. Plus, since the winner of the NL batting title will also be MLB’s leader, that has to bump him up a class or two in car, right?
The 2022 season has been a huge turnaround for McNeil when compared to 2021. Really, though, it’s a return to the production Mets fans had gotten used to seeing from him at the plate.
Squirrel slashed .251/.319/.360 with a 92 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR in 426 plate appearances last year. Those numbers have improved to .326/.381/.448, 141, and 5.7, respectively, through 580 trips to the plate this season. That 5.7 fWAR is the first time he’s gotten over 2.0 since 2019, and it’s also a single-season career-high mark.
The 171 hits he’s registered are also a new single-season career-high, and he’s found a way to get his hits in bunches this year. In 2021, McNeil registered three games of at least three hits. So far this year, he’s already accomplished that feat 16 (!) times.
With the finish line in sight, the left-handed hitter has picked up the pace. After entering the All-Star break with a .300 average, McNeil has hit .352 in the second half. It’s been even better since August 1st. In his last 241 plate appearances, he’s slashing .370/.419/.491, which susses out to a 163 wRC+.
He’s also currently riding an eight-game hit streak. Seven of those games have ended with multiple hits, including each of his last five. So, McNeil is definitely feeling it as the postseason nears.
Maybe the infielder is getting whiffs of that wonderful new car smell, too. These two have come a long way from the ratcoon incident, haven’t they?