Welcome to another season of series previews here at Amazin' Avenue. We're going to do our best to bring you information, analysis, and GIFs regarding the Mets' opponents. First up are the Washington Nationals, who are coming to Queens for a three-game set that to begin this glorious 2014 season.
What's going on with the Nationals?
Just like the Mets and a bunch of other major league teams, the Nationals have recently announced their Opening Day roster. Doug Fister has suffered a lat strain and will be placed on the disabled list at the outset, which means that both competitors for the fifth starter job—Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan—are on the team for now.
With Fister expected to miss at least three weeks of time, Roark and Jordan will be able to continue their roster battle in regular season play. Neither youngster is supposed to pitch against the Mets this week, but this is still a situation to watch, as it has a big impact on Washington's rotation going forward.
From a macro standpoint, the Nationals are expected to contend for a championship in 2014, even after they disappointingly finished last season 86-76 and out of the playoffs. Fister, when healthy, bolsters a strong pitching staff that already features Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. Similarly, the bullpen has multiple closer-type arms, while Washington's lineup could range from merely adequate to downright scary.
If Jayson Werth can maintain his outstanding production from the second half of 2013 and Bryce Harper stays healthy while showing even more of his immense potential, Washington will be a force to be reckoned with this season. It would be really cool if the Mets could start out with a couple of wins against them.
Who are these guys?
Jose Lobaton is Washington's new backup catcher, and since Thursday's game is a day-game-after-a-night-game scenario, we could see a decent amount of him this week. Acquired from Tampa Bay along with a pair of minor league players in exchange for right-handed pitcher Nate Karns this winter, Lobaton is rated as a solid defensive player by FanGraphs. According to the website, he was worth 1.4 fWAR last season in 311 plate apperances in which he hit .249/.320/.394 with seven home runs. Lobaton's ability to draw a walk and play solid defense should make him a solid understudy to starter Wilson Ramos.
Remember Kevin Frandsen? He was a utility player for the Phillies during the past two seasons. In 2012, he was fantastic, posting a wRC+ of 127 in 210 plate appearances, but in 2013 he suffered a major drop in BABIP and his wRC+ in turn dropped to 77. A week ago, Philadelphia designated Frandsen for assignment, but he turned down a guaranteed $900,000 to test the free agent market. The risk paid off when the Nationals came calling, and Frandsen is currently on Washington's 25-man roster. He can play second base, either corner infield spot, and maybe even some outfield in a pinch.
Who's on the mound?
Monday: Stephen Strasburg vs. Dillon Gee
There's a lot less hype around Strasburg than there used to be. After his electrifying MLB debut season, the subsequent Tommy John surgery, and the controversial shutdown of 2012, we finally may have run out of story lines. Now all that's left is a dominant right-handed starter with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball and a devastating changeup. Nationals fans are hoping Strasburg can finally pitch 200 innings this season and make a playoff start. Gee, on the other hand, doesn't have nearly as much pressure on him in 2014, but there's still a heavy load to carry with Matt Harvey on the DL. If Gee can maintain his 2013 walk rate while finding his 2012 strikeout rate again, he'll have his best season yet.
Wednesday: Gio Gonzalez vs. Bartolo Colon
In his past four seasons, split between Oakland and the Nats, Gonzalez has been a very consistent player. He's pitched at least 195 innings in each campaign with ERAs between 2.89 and 3.36. Gonzalez's WHIP has bounced around due to a struggling walk rate, but a consistently low BABIP means that he can be a very effective pitcher even while walking three-and-a-half batters per nine innings. Opposing him on Wednesday will be Colon, another former Athletics starter who last season posted his highest WAR (3.9) since 2005. Even before his magical 2013 season, though, Colon had been a steady producer for two straight years who didn't grant opponents any favors. Sandy Alderson is betting that two more such campaigns isn't too much to ask for.
Thursday: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Zack Wheeler
Zimmermann pitches with the type of reliability and command that managers dream about. He's made 64 starts over the past two years, walks less than two batters per nine innings, and in 2013 he struck out four batters for every one that he walked. The 28-year-old might not have the knockout stuff that it takes to win a Cy Young award, but if he's your third-best guy, you've got one heck of a pitching staff. Wheeler, meanwhile, could use some control issues from Zimmermann after he walked 10.7 percent of the batters he faced in 2013. He's still the Mets' most exciting pitching on the Opening Day roster, and fans will be eager to see how the former top prospect progresses this season.
What about some GIFs?
Opening Day starter Strasburg struck out seven Mets in five-and-two-thirds innings when the two sides scrimmaged on March 25.
The Mets lost 4-0 to the Nats on March 27, but at least we have this incredible Juan Lagares catch to remember. Poor Lobaton had to settle for a sac fly.
With both talent and grission, Bryce Harper is poised to become one of baseball's best players. Here he is getting tossed out of a spring training game for arguing a force play at first base.