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The Mets’ battle for October starts on Opening Day against the Cardinals

We haven’t played a game yet, but both New York and St. Louis are expected to contend for Wild Card spots all summer long.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The long winter is finally over! The Mets will start their 2018 regular season campaign on Thursday afternoon at 1:10 p.m. against the St. Louis Cardinals. The long-awaited opener comes on the heels of a busy offseason for New York, as the front office took advantage of a surprisingly low demand for sluggers by adding three veterans to the middle of the lineup. Jay Bruce was brought back on a three-year deal after he was traded to Cleveland last August, while Todd Frazier signed for just $17 million over two years and Adrian Gonzalez was had for the league minimum after Atlanta picked up his contact in a salary-dump trade.

The pitching staff will look a lot like the 2016 version, but hopefully this time around we’ll see a lot more of Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Matt Harvey. The trio combined to make just 38 starts last season, and the Mets will need their top arms to stay healthy in order to support a lineup that is high on power but low on athleticism.

That’s old news for many of our readers, though. All that matters now is how the 25 players that the team brought to Queens will match up with what looks to be another solid Cardinals squad led by Mike Matheny. Just like the Mets, St. Louis is picked to finish second in its division behind one of the most loaded teams in the National League. Unlike the Mets, St. Louis has a consistent history of success on its side. The Cardinals haven’t made the postseason in each of the past two years, but they have finished above .500 for 10 consecutive campaigns, and it will be quite shocking if they don’t add another to that tally in 2018.

In order to ensure a return to October baseball, the Cardinals took advantage of the Miami fire sale and traded for Marcell Ozuna, adding him to a lineup that already included the Met killer Paul DeJong, on-base machine Matt Carpenter, and breakout star of 2017 Tommy Pham. Ozuna is coming off of a career year with 37 home runs and a 142 wRC+ for the Marlins, and he’ll be expected to anchor the St. Louis lineup all season long.

Longtime stalwart Adam Wainwright is on the mend with a hamstring injury and hot pitching prospect Alex Reyes is still recovering from last year’s Tommy John surgery, so the pitching staff will be led by Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, both of whom were solid in 2017. The big question marks are at the back of the rotation, as Luke Weaver tries to build on last season’s success, Miles Mikolas looks to prove that his performance in Japan was no fluke, and Jack Flaherty attempts to hold down the fort until Wainwright is ready to return.

Probable pitchers

Thursday, March 29: Carlos Martinez vs. Noah Syndergaard, 1:10 p.m. on SNY

Martinez (2017): 205.0 IP, 217 K, 71 BB, 27 HR, 3.64 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.22 WHIP

Starting pitchers are asked to throw fewer and fewer innings these days, but it’s still a little surprising to hear that only 15 of them accrued at least 200 innings last year. One of those iron men was Martinez, and he posted a career-high 9.53 strikeouts per nine to boot. At 26 years of age, the Dominican hurler is still young as far as aces go, but he’s been one of the steadiest pitchers in the National League, with at least 29 starts and an ERA below 4.00 in each of the last three seasons. His ground-ball rate has also consistently been above 50 percent thanks to his excellent sinker.

Syndergaard (2017): 30.1 IP, 34 K, 3 BB, 0 HR, 2.97 ERA, 1.31 FIP, 1.05 WHIP

I didn’t remember very well how dominant Syndergaard was before he entered his April 30 start with biceps tendinitis an exited with a partially torn right lat muscle. If you don’t count the five runs he allowed in fewer than two innings that day, the superhero-sized pitcher had a 1.73 ERA in four April starts with 30 strikeouts, zero walks, and zero home runs allowed. Those are even wilder numbers than he put up in his breakout 2015 campaign and dominant 2016 effort. If pitching guru Mickey Callaway and company can keep Syndergaard healthy, he’s got a great chance to win the Cy Young Award.

Saturday, March 31: Michael Wacha vs. Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m. on SNY & MLBN

Wacha (2017): 165.2 IP, 158 K, 55 BB, 17 HR, 4.13 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 1.36 WHIP

Wacha has never been a huge strikeout guy in the majors, but last year he improved his curveball and got more swings and misses outside the strike zone, allowing him to strike out more than eight batters per nine for the first time in his career. That didn’t do much for his ERA thanks to a .327 BABIP against him, but if Wacha can continue to suppress home runs, he should be able to throw more innings in 2018 and challenge the 200-inning plateau. In his last two starts against the Mets, the Texas A&M product has allowed just two runs in 16 innings.

deGrom (2017): 201.1 IP, 239 K, 59 BB, 28 HR, 3.53 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.19 WHIP

Last season wasn’t without its hiccups — deGrom suffered two different two-start slumps that yielded a total of 25 runs against him — but this is a guy who was great from start to finish in 2018. He was so good in the innings pitched and strikeout categories that all Mets fans can ask for is perhaps a return to the lower walk rate than made deGrom such a dominant control guy in 2015 and 2016. Also, despite missing so many bats, he did run into a lot of long balls. The 28 home runs he gave up were almost as much as he allowed in the previous two campaigns combined.

Sunday, April 1: Luke Weaver vs. Steven Matz, 1:10 p.m. on SNY & ESPN

Weaver (2017): 60.1 IP, 72 K, 17 BB, 7 HR, 3.88 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 1.26 WHIP

After being called up in July last year, Weaver got his most work done in September. During his first four starts of that month, the Florida State product allowed five runs to go with 29 strikeouts and just two walks. Those are Syndergaard-like numbers and ones that should encourage Cardinals fans even though Weaver got lit up in his final two outings of 2017. He seems to have his momentum back with one runs allowed in 16.1 spring training frames, so Weaver is a young pitcher to watch out for as the new season begins.

Matz (2017): 66.2 IP, 48 K, 19 BB, 12 HR, 6.08 ERA, 5.05 FIP, 1.53 WHIP

Matz missed the first two months of 2017 due to an elbow injury, but when he finally took the mound in June, he got off to a great start with a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings over his first five outings. However, Matz’s excellent seven-inning, scoreless game in Washington on July 3 would be the last time that he would allow fewer than three runs in a start. After two months of struggles, we learned that the southpaw had been playing through pain caused by a nerve issue in his throwing elbow. He finally looked like his old self again towards the end of spring training, so there’s hope that Matz can get back to reliably providing outs again, even if he once again fails to pitch through the entire campaign.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.


How will the Mets fare against the Phillies in their first meeting of the 2018 season?

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  • 41%
    (57 votes)
  • 26%
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  • 11%
    Kapler manages shirtless; intimidated Mets get swept.
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