The 2-1 Mets welcome the 1-2 Phillies into Citi Field for the first of their 18 divisional matchups in a weather-shortened two-game series starting this evening. While one game may separate the teams in the standings, the prevailing mood surrounding the two teams would lead one to think there was already a gulf in the standings. And for once, it is the Mets and their fan base that seem the (relative) bastion of calm and serenity.
The Mets got the Mickey Callaway era off to a great start, winning on Opening Day—as they do—and claiming the opening series from a strong team and potential Wild Card rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets won the first two games with strong starts from their twin aces, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, while the offense got off to a solid start, with Yoenis Cespedes (1 HR and 4 RBI) and the catching tandem of Kevin Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud both strongly contributing. Robert Gsellman turned in standout relief work in his first two appearances as well (7 batters faced, 4 strikeouts, -1.78 FIP). While Sunday’s sluggish result could put a damper previous two days’ optimism, it’s hard not to be content with how many of the Mets have started the season.
Since finishing the 2012 season at .500, the Phillies have failed to record more than 73 wins in a season, finishing no higher than fourth in the NL East. After years of paring down the payroll and trying to improve a barren farm system, 2018 looked to be a season where the franchise could begin to turn a corner. The team returns an impressive core of burgeoning stars Rhys Hoskins (18 HR in 50 games in 2017) and Aaron Nola (4.3 fWAR over 168 innings in 2017).
With the savvy offseason free agent additions of Carlos Santana (3 years, $60 million) to bolster the offense and Jake Arrieta (3 years, $75 million) to do the same for the rotation, the Phillies seem a strong bet to improve and were a growing choice to possibly make the leap into contention in 2018. Three games and 21 pitchers later, however, a number of people are ready to bury the Phillies already.
This is in large part due to new manager Gabe Kapler’s tumultuous opening weekend. His decision to remove Nola after 5.1 innings and 68 pitches with a 5-0 Opening Day lead quickly backfired. Eight unanswered runs later, this Phils had lost their opener, and Kapler was already being questioned. After winning the second game (which took 11 innings and nine pitchers), the third game was a 15-2 drubbing in which the manager ordered a pitching change without having a reliever ready to enter the game and ended with position player Pedro Florimon pitching.
Kepler remained intense and defiant in the face of the unusual spate early criticism, confident in his advanced analytic approach and guaranteeing the playoffs. Three games certainly seems a bit too soon to determine the wisdom of any new manager’s approach. A city that has already once had to “Trust the Process” may need to do so again. The Mets will look to keep the pressure on in this weather-shortened series.
Tuesday, April 3: Ben Lively vs. Matt Harvey, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Lively (2017): 88.2 IP, 52 K, 24 BB, 13 HR, 4.26 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 1.29 WHIP
Lively came over to the Phillies from the Reds organization in the 2014 offseason in exchange for Marlon Byrd. Optimal projections see him as a workhorse-type back of the rotation starter. He made his MLB debut in June of last year, and did nothing to dispel that projection, posting a 4.26 ERA over 15 starts, with some peripherals (5.28 K/9 rate and those 13 home runs allowed over 88.2 innings) which indicate that could be a high-water mark for him. Lively did pitch well in his three appearances against the Mets last year, going 2-1 while allowing 5 earned runs over 19.1 innings.
Harvey (2017): 92.2 IP, 67 K, 47 BB, 21 HR, 6.37 ERA, 6.70 FIP, 1.69 WHIP
Harvey Day was anything but happy for the Mets in 2017, as the former ace suffered through an absolutely painful season in his attempt to return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome which ended his 2016 after an identical 92.2 innings. His 6.37 ERA and -0.8 fWAR were he fourth-worst in baseball among pitchers with at least 90 innings, and his 6.70 FIP third-worst. The performance of Harvey—along with Sunday’s starter Steven Matz—will likely be the most scrutinized of any Met this season, as a return to respectability from either/both would go a long way towards a successful Mets 2018 campaign.
Wednesday, April 4: Aaron Nola vs.
Seth Lugo Noah Syndergaard, 1:10 p.m. on FB-WATCH
Nola (2018): 5.1 IP, 3 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.69 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 0.75 WHIP
Nola entered the season looking to build off an impressive 2017, in which his 9.86 K/9 rate and 3.27 FIP augured well. Making his first career Opening Day start on Thursday, Nola flashed the form which made him a popular 2018 breakout candidate (among both real and fantasy baseball analysts) over 5.1 innings and 68 pitches. However, much of that was lost in the focus on the pitch count—and the remaining 3.1 innings compiled by the five Phillies relievers that followed him. Nola recorded a win in both of his 2017 starts against the Mets, allowing 5 earned runs over 12 innings while striking out 10.
Lugo (2017): 101.1 IP, 85 K, 25 BB, 13 HR, 4.71 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.37 WHIP
Syndergaard (2018): 6 IP, 10 K, 0 BB, 2 HR, 6.00 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.00 WHIP
Monday seemed like a fun day for the Mets, and a great day for Salty the Snowman, but pity Seth Lugo a bit. Lugo battled and impressed in spring training to earn the fifth starter spot, but Jason Vargas seems to be approaching a possible return, which means the snow may effectively bump Lugo from the rotation. Still, given his numbers the first two times through a lineup—.246/.300/.483 allowed, as opposed to .311/.438/.534 the third and fourth times through—the bullpen might be an optimal place for him to perhaps also pull a Gsellman.
Perhaps also pity the Phillies, though, as they will instead draw Noah Syndergaard, who did surrender two home runs, but otherwise looked in excellent form in his second straight Opening Day start with his impressive. Given his career 0.78 HR/9 rate, it seems comfortable to hope that Thor can avoid the long ball and continue to embark upon a campaign that—if healthy—could put him in the Cy Young conversation at the end of the season. Nola v. Syndergaard should be an exciting matchup to watch—if you have access to Facebook Watch, that is.
Over/Unders: Phillies pitchers to appear in series: 10.5.
Phillies position players to pitch in series: 0.5.
Mets win two of three. Mini-sweep!
How will the Mets fare against the Phillies in their first meeting of the season?
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Kapler manages shirtless; intimidated Mets get swept.
Mo’ rain, mo’ doubleheaders.