A sweep of the opening series would have been nice, but the Mets did well on Thursday to take the rubber game against the Braves with a decisive 6-2 victory. While New York was busy dealing with its southern opponents, the Marlins had their hands full in Washington. After losing the first two games of the series, Miami fell behind 2-0 in the seventh inning, but Don Mattingly’s scrappy squad battled back to tie the game in both the eighth and ninth innings against the Nationals’ revamped bullpen. In the 10th, Justin Bour put the Fish ahead for the first time with an RBI double, and Miami held on for the 4-3 win, its first of the season.
The back-and-forth affair made for an exciting evening, but the biggest story surrounding the Marlins this week comes from off the field, where the team could be getting purchased by a high-profile buyer. With current unpopular owner Jeffery Loria looking to sell his franchise for a massive profit, a new, sexier boss like future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter could provide new life to a fan base that is used to seeing popular players traded away in exchange for younger, less expensive replacements.
Bonded by their fans’ dislike of unappealing owners, the Mets and Marlins continue their rivalry on Friday night. It will be the first regular season game between the two clubs since last September’s series in Miami that featured the first game following the tragic death of Jose Fernandez.
It’s impossible to talk about Miami’s 2017 campaign without talking about Fernandez. His loss was emotionally devastating to so many players and staff members, but that kind burden is much harder to measure than the on-field value that Fernandez gave his team last year. The Cuban right-hander was worth 6.1 fWAR with a 2.86 ERA and incredible 12.49 strikeouts per nine innings that would make an elite closer jealous. The front office has brought in Dan Straily and Edinson Volquez to boost the pitching rotation’s profile, but if the Marlins are going to make a surprise run at the National League East crown, it will likely be due to their high-ceiling offense led by Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.
Neither star got off to a great start in Washington, but underrated catcher J.T. Realmuto made his presence felt with multiple hits in all three games as well as home runs in his last two. The 26-year-old is an unusual choice to bat second in today’s “best hitter bats second” world, but he was Miami’s best player in the opening set. The Marlins are probably looking at an 0-3 start if not for Realmuto’s game-tying home run in the eighth inning on Thursday.
Another batter who has surprised with the Marlins is Tyler Moore, the former Washington bench piece who barely made Miami’s roster this spring. He’s come off the bench for pinch hits in each of the last two games and could factor into a first base platoon if Bour struggles against left-handed pitching early on.
Although Realmuto is far from a superstar, the Mets wish they had the kind of projected consistency at catcher that the Marlins have right now. Instead, we came into 2017 not knowing what kind of performance Travis d’Arnaud would give us or how healthy he would remain. The good news is that the 28-year-old backstop is off to a solid start despite being benched on Opening Day in favor of Noah Syndergaard’s personal catcher Rene Rivera. d’Arnaud picked up a single during his first start on Wednesday night, but also drove the ball deep into the outfield during his first two at-bats, resulting in outs. On Thursday, that hard contact paid off with a two-RBI double that gave New York the lead and broke an 11-inning scoring drought.
Despite notching two wins in three games against the Braves, the Mets’ offense was not too impressive. The team is hitting .198/.293/.307 so far, but one guy bringing the thunder is maligned outfielder Jay Bruce. His blundering outfield defense had fans moaning and groaning on Wednesday night, but he also hit a home run and a double during the extra-inning loss. With four walks and just one strikeout in the three games, Bruce appears to be seeing the ball better than he did in his 2016 Mets tenure, and that could make for a big season if it continues.
Friday, April 7: Wei-Yin Chen
Important stats (2016): 123.1 IP, 100 K, 24 BB, 22 HR, 4.96 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 1.26 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (84 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (84 mph), curveball (74 mph)
After working as a solid mid-rotation starter in the dreaded American League East for four seasons, you’d think that Chen would thrive in the pitcher-friendly confines of Marlins Park. That turned out not to be the case as the southpaw from Taiwan suffered the worst home-run-per-fly-ball rate of his career and saw his ERA rise by more than a run over his 2015 value. To add injury to insult, Chen’s season was shortened by an elbow sprain. His control was just as good as ever, though, so if he can convert more fly balls into outs this year, the former Oriole might bounce back in a big way.
Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: Thanks to the innings limit established by Mets brass before the season, we know that Wheeler won’t spend all of 2017 in the rotation, but he will begin the campaign there due to the injury of Steven Matz. After more than year on the shelf, it will be interesting to see what the right-hander has in terms of stuff. Before having Tommy John surgery, Wheeler struggled with pitch counts, and pitching efficiently will only be more important now with the limits in place.
Saturday, April 8: Adam Conley
Important stats (2016): 133.1 IP, 124 K, 62 BB, 13 HR, 3.85 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.40 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (83 mph), slider (85 mph)
The 26-year-old Conley is still learning how to control his stuff effectively, but he looked like a seasoned veteran against the Mets last year. In three starts against New York, the lefty out of Washington State walked just three batters in 15 innings to go with 14 strikeouts and two runs allowed. Maybe in 2017 the Mets will be able to better take advantage of Conley’s high WHIP and low ground ball rate.
Mets starter, Robert Gsellman: This was supposed to be Noah Syndergaard’s spot, but Goldilocks is being pushed back a day due to a blister that developed on his right hand on Opening Day. Instead, we’ll get Gsellman, who posted a higher strikeout rate in 44.2 big league innings last year than in any of his minor league campaigns. That makes it seem like he’s due for regression, but the young right-hander shouldn’t be shying away from contact with the way he generates ground balls. His high-velocity sinking fastball should serve Gsellman well as the Mets turn to him to solidify the rotation.
Sunday, April 9: Edinson Volquez
Important stats (2016): 189.1 IP, 139 K, 76 BB, 23 HR, 5.37 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 1.55 WHIP
Favorite pitches: sinker (94 mph), changeup (83 mph), four-seam fastball (94 mph), knuckle curve (81 mph)
Despite posting a solid 51-percent ground ball rate last year, Volquez allowed more than 20 home runs for the first time in his career, and as a result his ERA spiked up nearly two runs compared to 2015. That didn’t stop Miami from signing the 33-year-old veteran to a two-year deal during the offseason, but there is some danger with Volquez, as he once looked like a lost cause in Cincinnati and San Diego before finally getting his walks under control with the Pirates in 2014.
Mets starter, Noah Syndergaard: Mets fans couldn’t have asked Syndergaard to pitch must better on Opening Day. He struck out seven batters and walked none in six shutout innings, but a pesky blister limited Thor to just 86 pitches. The minor injury pushes Syndergaard’s next start back one day, which should thrill the executives at ESPN, because this series finale will take place under the lights on Sunday Night Baseball.
Miami beefed up its bullpen during the offseason, adding former Red Sox relievers Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to pitch in front of closer A.J. Ramos. While both Ziegler and Ramos have performed well thus far, Tazawa has surrendered a run in each of his two appearances. One of those runs was a go-ahead home run by Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, and that’s particularly troubling for Tazawa since he’s coming off of a season in which he struggled to keep the ball in the yard.
The Mets have gotten three good performances from their top four relievers and one dud that helped lose them a game on Wednesday night. That belongs to Hansel Robles, who fell behind batters repeatedly in the seventh inning while throwing just six out of 15 pitches for strikes before Jerry Blevins came in and limited the damage to just one run. Blevins, along with Addison Reed and Fernando Salas, have combined for six scoreless innings so far and will hopefully continue to pitch solidly at least until Jeurys Familia returns.
Prediction: Mets win two of three.
How will the Mets fare against the Marlins?
This poll is closed
Keep sweeping until we get another day game!
Win two of three.
Win one of three.
Okay, now it’s okay to panic.