The constant evolution of Curtis Granderson as a power hitting leadoff hitter…
Any player, coach or manager at any level will say baseball is a game of constant, in-game adjustments.
And for Curtis Granderson, not only does he continue to adjust, but he is evolving on the grand stage of the playoffs.
Granderson was among many of the standout performers for the Mets in their 13-7 rout of the Dodgers on Monday night, single-handed lay producing five of the 13 runs the Mets plated against the Los Angeles pitching staff in what was an electrified Citi Field crowd.
But for Granderson in particular, there was more than met the eye in his two-hit, five RBI performance.
All five of his RBI – the sum total of runs produced by his two doubles – came against left-handed pitching. He slugged a bases clearing double in the second inning against Dodger left-hander Brett Anderson which scored three as part of a four-run comeback after the Dodgers had taken an early 3-0 on Matt Harvey, thanks in part to a throwing error on the part of Granderson.
And, for the third time in this series, Granderson swung at the first pitch in a sequence. Coming into the playoffs, Granderson had gone 72 straight plate appearances without swinging at the first pitch.
So much for patience, especially against left-handed pitching, a situation he struggled to the tune of a .558 OPS during the regular year.
“The guys ahead of me ended up getting on base, and the way they went out and continued to keep their heads held high,” Granderson explained. “My first at-bat, I didn’t have a ton of success against Anderson there. I didn’t see him that well. But the second time around, hopefully get a ball up in the zone, where you can do something with it. When I hit it, I knew I hit it but definitely not that good. I knew it was toward the center of the field and Kiké out there is pretty fast out there in center field. So I was just hoping it got down and got the ground and ended up hitting the wall, which is a good thing for us.”
Indeed, as it erased a three-run deficit and his costly throwing error. The Mets now had a 4-3 lead, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Their 41st come-from-behind win of the season was nearly complete. But Granderson wasn’t finished producing runs.
In the seventh inning with the club leading 11-4, he took left-hander JP Howell the other way for a two-run double.
“He doesn’t look for headlines, he just likes to play,” Manager Terry Collins explained. “He loves to be in the lineup. He doesn’t care where it’s at. When he shows up, you’re going to get all you can out of him, and right now he’s led the way most of the season, and right now, like tonight when he walks up there, he’s dangerous.
“I know his numbers aren’t great against left-hand pitching,” Collins continued. “but I know one thing. you make a mistake and he can hit one over that fence in a hurry, or against the fence. So he’s really played good for us.”
Collins believes a lot of the credit for Granderson’s bounce back year belongs to the hiring of hitting coach Kevin Long, who Granderson knew from his days with the Yankees.
“They have such a great rapport,” Collins said after the win. “He was so happy when we hired Kevin, and I think Kevin keeps him calm. Kevin knows his swing better than anybody. I think if he gets out of whack, he can be fixed in a hurry. He’s had a tremendous year not only on the power front, but on getting on base.”
Collins last point is the key. After being asked to be the club’s leadoff hitter this season, he’s evolved his approach at the plate. But it all depends on the situation. He has become a fantastically disciplined hitter when the bases are empty, with a tremendous ability to work deep counts, take tough pitches, and only swing at pitches in his hitting zone.
He produced a .342 on-base percentage with 32 of his career-high 91 walks leading off an inning in 2015.
But he showed all year to be a completely different animal with runners on-base, and showed it once again on Monday night as well, although he produced a remarkable .400 on-base percentage with runners on-base and a .433 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position with 23 walks in 120 plate appearances.
He’s been the best of both world in the first three games of this series, showing he’s once again a quality, power-hitting leadoff hitter capable of wearing multiple hats while adjustment quickly to every in-game situation.
He showed patience and worked counts against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke when necessary in Los Angeles as well, and muscled up and got aggressive as needed early in sequences as well.
That package of excellence has made Granderson’s six hits in 11 Division Series at-bats invaluable to the Mets as they are now within one win of advancing to the best-of-seven League Championship Series.
But it’s really just more of the same from Granderson, who has been the ever-evolving and ever-adjusting steady presence for the Mets all year long.
And to think, the Mets didn’t even have a leadoff hitter in camp in March.
Or, so they thought.