Let the games begin! After a punishingly long offseason and what felt like a never-ending Grapefruit League season, the 2019 season has arrived. This year, the New York Mets will begin their schedule on the road against the Washington Nationals with three incredibly appealing pitching match-ups on the docket.
Historically, the Nationals have made life difficult on the Mets, but New York bucked that trend a bit last season as they took 11 out of 19 games from their division rivals. It was only the third time since 2009—and first time since winning the division in 2015—that the Mets took the season series. There are a number of things that the Mets will have to do in order to compete for a division title this season, but handling the Nationals is of paramount importance. Since 2005, the Mets own a 121-138 record against Washington.
Like last year, the Mets will face the Nationals six times in the season’s opening month. Last year, New York was in the middle of their blistering 11-1 start when they swept a three-game set at Nationals Park. Eight days later, they welcomed the Nationals to Citi Field and jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the opening contest. With the game seemingly in control, the bullpen imploded and allowed six runs in the eighth inning as the Mets fell 8-6 and saw their record drop to 12-3. While they were able to recover and split the next two games, this collapse in many ways marked the beginning of the end of their early season dominance and displayed the first cracks that would eventually become another fourth place finish and a 77-85 record.
Despite the down year, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Mets can bounce back and compete in 2019. The club has a lineup that boasts four talented, homegrown stars in Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil, all of whom will find themselves in the lineup on Opening Day. This core performed admirably during spring training and finished off last season with inspiring second-half performances. If they can all stay healthy and continue to grow at the rate they’ve shown they’re capable of, the Mets could be in for a solid season. The Mets will also get an offensive boost from Pete Alonso, who will make his major league debut and will be the team’s starting first baseman on Opening Day.
To complement the younger players, first-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen acquired some veteran talent to provide additional stability to the lineup. Van Wagenen signed Wilson Ramos to lead the charge behind the plate and brought in Jed Lowrie — who will not be ready in time for Opening Day after suffering a knee injury in February — to serve as a utility infield bat and take most of the reps at third base. On top of that, the club surprised the baseball world by trading for second baseman Robinson Cano, who figures to bat third in the lineup this year. At 36-years-old, Cano has shown that he still has plenty left in the tank after completing a red-hot spring training in which he produced a .441/.476/.610 slash line.
Although they finishing second in the standings, the Nationals had an equally — if not substantially more disappointing — year than the Mets. Washington entered 2018 as heavy favorites to win their third consecutive division title but finished with a meager 82-80 record and missed out on securing a playoff berth. This will be the first Opening Day since 2012 that the club will play without Bryce Harper, who left as a free agent and signed a then-record 13-year contract worth $330 million with the Philadelphia Phillies (a record which has since been surpassed by Mike Trout’s 12-year, $430 million deal).
Even without Harper’s potent bat in the lineup, the Nationals are well-positioned to remain a threat in the division for years to come. Their outfield will be anchored by 20-year-old Juan Soto — last year’s runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year — and 21-year-old Victor Robles. The club also has a steady and offensively-capable left side of their infield which is composed of 25-year-old Trea Turner at shortstop and 28-year-old Anthony Rendon at third. They also added second baseman Brian Dozier and catcher Yan Gomes, which rounds out one of the deepest lineups in the National League.
In looking ahead, the Mets will get plenty of opportunities to make a statement against their National League East foes early in the season. Over the course of their first 24 games, the Mets will face the Nationals six times, the Phillies six times, the Atlanta Braves four times, and the Miami Marlins three times.
Thursday, March 28: Jacob deGrom vs. Max Scherzer, 1:05 p.m. on SNY
deGrom (2018): 217.0 IP, 269 K, 46 BB, 10 HR, 1.70 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 0.91 WHIP
It came down to the wire, but the Mets and deGrom were finally able to agree on a contract extension two days ahead of the season opener. It’s a well deserved reward for deGrom, who will make his first career Opening Day start. Nothing can be said about deGrom’s 2018 season that hasn’t already been said at least one hundred times by now. However, it bears repeating that he was, simply put, the best pitcher in baseball last year. The numbers don’t even tell the entire story, as he was dominant just about every time he took the mound and set some impressive records along the way. He closed out his final start against the Braves by picking up his 1,000th career strikeout on his final pitch and earning his 10th win of the season en route to winning the National League Cy Young award. Somewhat fittingly, deGrom will begin his season against the man whom he beat out for that award.
Scherzer (2018): 220.2 IP, 300 K, 51 BB, 23 HR, 2.53 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 0.91 WHIP
Scherzer fell short of earning his third consecutive National League Cy Young award, but he had a spectacular season in his own right. He led the league in wins (18), strikeouts (300), WHIP (0.91), innings pitched (220.2) and H/9 (6.1) and finished in the top-10 in NL MVP voting for the third straight season. Few starting pitchers have been as consistent or as imposing as Scherzer, who has been an All Star in each the past six seasons and has finished no lower than fifth in Cy Young voting every year during that span. He has also finished with a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-3.00 FIP in five of those six years and has recorded at least 230 strikeouts every season since 2012. Scherzer has typically dominated the Mets to a tune of a 2.43 ERA in 16 career starts against them.
Saturday, March 30: Noah Syndergaard vs. Stephen Strasburg, 1:05 p.m. on SNY
Syndergaard (2018): 154.1 IP, 155 K, 39 BB, 9 HR, 3.03 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.21 WHIP
Despite hearing his name pop up in trade rumors over the offseason, Syndergaard will make his return to the mound in the second game of the season as a member of the Mets. Syndergaard will look to build off his stellar September, which featured two complete game victories — including a five-hit shutout against the Miami Marlins to close out the season at Citi Field. Syndergaard has been held back by injuries over the past two seasons, but his 2018 results were still commendable. If he can side-step injuries and hone his pitch location and selection, Thor might be able to replicate his 2016 All-Star campaign and could join the Cy Young conversation.
Strasburg (2018): 130.0 IP, 156 K, 54 BB, 18 HR, 3.74 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.20 WHIP
Like Syndergaard, Strasburg was plagued by injuries in 2018 and was limited to just 22 starts. The problems began in June, when he landed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. After making one start on July 20, he ended up back on the shelf with a pinched nerve in his neck. After making two consecutive All Star teams and finished third in the Cy Young race in 2017, he was mostly an afterthought last season as the Nationals missed the playoffs. His numbers were still good, and he proved that he could still perform when he was on the field for Washington. His health will be a major storyline in the National League East this year, as a healthy Strasburg could mean big trouble for the Mets, Phillies, and Braves.
Sunday, March 31: Zack Wheeler vs. Patrick Corbin, 1:35 p.m. on SNY
Wheeler (2018): 182.1 IP, 179 K, 55 BB, 14 HR, 3.31 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.12 WHIP
For a significant portion of last season, it looked as if Wheeler would never become the pitcher that the club had hoped he’d be. Through the All Star break, Wheeler owned a 4.44 ERA and a 3.75 FIP while allowing 3.4 BB/9. Then, almost unexpectedly, Wheeler became the second-best pitcher on the Mets and one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 75 subsequent innings, he allowed just 14 earned runs (1.68 ERA) and lowered his BB/9 to 1.8. During that span, hitters posted a measly .174/.237/.253 slash line against him. Of his final 11 starts, he pitched at least seven innings in nine of them and allowed one earned run or less in seven. If Wheeler can carry this resurgence into 2019, the Mets will have a legitimate shot at competing for a playoff spot.
Corbin (2018): 200.0 IP, 246 K, 48 BB, 15 HR, 3.15 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 1.05 WHIP
While the Nationals may have lost Harper, they took home perhaps the biggest prize on the starting pitching market. Corbin — who finished fifth in the Cy Young voting as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks — inked a six-year deal worth $140 million and now gives Washington a devastating front-end of their rotation. The big question is whether the 29-year-old can replicate his 2018 numbers, which were far better than his lifetime averages. He finished last season with career-bests in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, H/9, HR/9, and K/9 and finished third in the National League in FIP and in fWAR among qualified starting pitchers. The good news for the Mets is that they have handled Corbin fairly well in limited chances against him. Corbin has made eight starts against the Mets and owns a 5.10 ERA in 47.2 innings in those games.
Prediction: The Mets will open 2019 on a high note as they take two out of three from their division rivals.
How will the Mets fare in their three game series against the Nationals?
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Nothing sweeter than a sweep to start the season!
Mets take two of three to begin the year on a high note!
Mets steal one on the road against their division rivals
It’s all Nats as the Mets get swept in our nation’s capital
Pizza! It’s always pizza!