With teams heading north for the regular season and baseball’s most glorious day finally upon us, Mets fans are anxious to see how the team will rebound from their disappointing performance in 2017. While we obviously won’t know fully what to expect for a while, several key storylines in the 2018 season will begin to unfold on Thursday afternoon. Here are three things to watch out for in the Opening Day clash with the Cardinals:
1. Brandon Nimmo has an opportunity to prove himself
With Adrian Gonzalez struggling in Spring Training and Dominic Smith beginning the year on the sidelines, a move to first base for Jay Bruce has begun to look like a real possibility, and in the outfield, no one really knows how well Michael Conforto’s bat will recover from his shoulder injury. Juan Lagares also went through a rough spring with the bat, and should any of these players falter to begin the 2018 Regular Season, it could open up a spot in the outfield.
Brandon Nimmo will have a chance to showcase his skills at the beginning of the year, hitting leadoff and playing center field. Many people have speculated that Nimmo could be a valuable player if he were given a chance to contribute, and he’s certainly lived up to the hype, posting a 117 wRC+ last season, and a 0.984 OPS this Spring. Nimmo has been the odd man out in the Mets outfield when they are at full health, but he could possibly change that with an impressive performance in April.
2. Noah Syndergaard makes his return to the mound
Noah Syndergaard’s health is possibly the biggest key to success for the 2018 Mets. When he’s healthy, the right-hander is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He posted a 2.26 FIP in 2016, even while pitching with bone spurs in his elbow for a significant portion of the season. He comes with significant injury risks, however, and the rotation is littered with question marks behind him. Mets fans saw what their rotation looked like without Thor last year, and that’s not a sight they want to see again.
Syndergaard was extremely impressive in Spring Training, putting up a shiny 10.35 K/9 rate and 1.35 ERA, but tomorrow marks one of his first opportunities to go up against a major league lineup for his entire start. Obviously his health can deteriorate at any point, but a dominating performance against St. Louis would surely be a great sign for Mets fans, and a statement to the rest of the league.
3. Mickey Callaway makes his managerial debut
Mickey Callaway will manage his first regular season game with the Mets tomorrow, and it will certainly be interesting to watch the Mets fanbase and the New York media react to a manager who appears the exact opposite of Terry Collins in terms of personality and managerial style. So far, the consensus on Callaway seems to be overwhelmingly positive, but with every new manager there is a tendency to sour on them after the season starts, and we will see if this proves to be the case here as well.
Callaway has also hinted at a rather unconventional strategy with his bullpen management, possibly electing to save his “closer” for the highest leverage situations, and go with a “closer-by-committee approach” in the ninth inning. He isn’t afraid to mix things up (as evidenced by hitting Rosario ninth on Thursday), which stands in stark contrast to Terry Collins’ strict adherence to baseball conventions.
Fans should also look for Callaway to make an impact on the Mets’ pitching staff. He developed a reputation for developing very good secondary pitches during his time with the Cleveland Indians, and early returns from the spring would suggest that he can do the same thing with New York. Tomorrow will be our first true glimpse at Callaway’s style as a manager, the footprint he leaves on our team, and in turn, how fans react to him.