Francisco Lindor stepping up at the plate crucial to Mets winning series against Braves

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ATLANTA — With All-Stars Jeff McNeil and Starling Marte absent, Francisco Lindor stepped up.

Two weeks ago, when the Mets were in a rut offensively, fans would have had a hard time believing they would take a series from the defending champion Braves without two of their best hitters. With McNeil on paternity leave and Marte dealing with groin discomfort, it was Lindor who brought the lineup back from the dead.

“I’m happy. I’m happy I’m contributing to the team,” Lindor said. “I came here to win ballgames. However, we’re still not done. We got a long way to go.”

The Mets star shortstop went 5-for-14 with four RBI, a home run and a triple in three games at Atlanta. No game was bigger than Wednesday for Lindor, when he cranked a three-run home run off Braves right-hander Charlie Morton that gave the Mets a 4-0 lead in the third inning. The Mets went on to beat the Braves, 7-3.

Lindor has 68 RBI on the year, which is one more than he had all of last season. Yes, Lindor was sidelined for a good chunk of last season with an oblique strain. But that he has already surpassed his 2021 RBI season total as soon as mid-July is telling of just how much more productive he has been at the plate in his second year in Queens.

“I don’t pay attention to numbers,” Lindor said. “I’m healthier. I’m helping the team a little more than I did last year. At this point last year I was probably hitting a hundred and ninety. … I’m happy I’m helping the team. That’s what we all play for. But last year’s last year. That doesn’t really matter much.”

The shortstop, who signed a 10-year, $341 million contract with the Mets that began this year, doesn’t like to talk about last season. Why would he? Mets fans booed him, and he booed them back, all while turning in his worst career season at the plate.

A key aspect that was missing from Lindor’s disappointing first year in Flushing was his established ability to come through in the clutch. He did that well in Cleveland, and he’s found it again this season.

Lindor entered Wednesday slashing .314/.368/.514 in 38 plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position. He has collected a major-league leading 21 go-ahead RBI. His 64 RBI on the season are sixth most in MLB and second-most among Mets hitters behind Pete Alonso’s major-league leading 72.

Despite his top-ranked numbers, Lindor was not a part of the four-player group of Mets going to next week’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. His manager is grateful that Lindor, who has played 87 of the Mets’ 89 games, will get a well-deserved break.

“Selfishly, I’d like to see him get four days off because he’s playing almost every day for us,” Buck Showalter said. “But you can make a strong case for him going to the All-Star Game too. I haven’t heard one whimper about it from him.”