After a long and arduous winter, and a three-game series against the Nationals getting scrapped due to a few COVID-19 cases on Washington’s roster, the Mets finally return tonight to play games that count in the standings. And just as exciting as the return of Mets baseball is the highly anticipated return of Mets Series Previews, which took a, let’s call it ‘break’, in 2020 during a season everyone agreed was fake and didn’t matter anyway.
The Mets finished 2020 tied for last place in the National League East with a disappointing 26-34 record. It was a strange and frustrating year in many respects, as the team never really found their footing or got into a groove at any point. The Mets endured long periods of inefficiency and enjoyed short bursts of success, but the condensed nature of the season made it impossible for them to make any sort of sustained run and left fans and players alike with an empty and incomplete feeling.
The offseason got off on a high note with the end of the Wilpons’ reign of terror. Steve Cohen officially completed his purchase of the team in October, after Jeff Wilpon mucked up the original attempt during the 2019 offseason. Cohen brought back Sandy Alderson and overhauled the front office, although their pick for General Manager, Jared Porter, was fired after a story broke of him sending unsolicited explicit texts to a female reporter in 2016. The revamped front office took Cohen’s sweet, sweet money and used it to add James McCann, Trevor May, Taijuan Walker, Aaron Loup, Joey Lucchesi, Kevin Pillar, and Albert Almora Jr., focusing not just on big names but on solidifying their woefully-lacking depth.
And then there was the blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, which stunned the baseball world and shifted the MLB landscape as news broke in real time on January 7. In lieu of signing George Springer or J.T. Realmuto, the Mets added a bona fide star via trade, parting with their two young, homegrown shortstops and a couple of prospects in the process. The Mets put the cherry on top of the trade on the eve of Opening Day (the original Opening Day), when they signed Lindor to the third-richest contract in baseball history with a 10-year, $341 million extension.
All eyes will be on the freshly-signed Mr. Smile, who enters the season with a lot of expectations, a lot of promise, and a whole lot of talent. While last year wasn’t an accurate look at what he could do offensively (.258/.335/.415, 8 home runs, 102 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR), his overall career numbers speak for themselves. He comes into this year with a 29.2 fWAR in six seasons with Cleveland, and has a .285/.346/.488 slash line with 138 home runs and a 118 wRC+. He will slot nicely into the second spot in the team’s lineup, hitting in between Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto.
On the pitching side of the trade, the club will have to wait a little bit longer to see Carrasco, who is recovering from a hamstring injury and likely won’t be seen until May. The Mets put in a lot of effort fortifying their rotation, which will feature some much-needed fresh faces. The club’s rotation was one of the biggest reasons they faltered to a last-place finish, ending 2020 with a 5.37 ERA, a 4.21 FIP, and a 1.40 WHIP in the 60 games. Those numbers are especially laughable when you consider that they include another stellar Jacob deGrom season.
Only the aforementioned deGrom and David Peterson have returned, while Noah Syndergaard will look to make his mark at some point towards the middle of the season as he continues to recover from Tommy John Surgery. Marcus Stroman is back on a qualifying offer after sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, and the team signed Walker late in the offseason to fill their final vacancy. With Carrasco on the shelf, the club will go with Lucchesi or an opener to round out their rotation.
Instead of opening with the Nationals, the Mets will instead kick things off against the Phillies, who finished two games ahead of New York last season with a 28-32 record, but still fell short of a playoff berth. The club underperformed all around, especially their bullpen, and they were not able to fulfill their sky-high expectations. Philadelphia began its season at home against the Braves, and pulled off a surprising sweep against the National League East favorites.
Philadelphia’s revamped bullpen turned in 3.1 innings of scoreless relief in support of Aaron Nola on Opening Day, as the club picked up a victory on Jean Segura’s walk-off single in the tenth. Former Met Zack Wheeler was the star of the show on Saturday, providing seven innings of one-hit ball while adding two hits and driving in two runs in Philly’s 4-0 victory. The club completed the sweep on Sunday, as an eighth inning, run-scoring single by Alec Bohm drove in Rhys Hoskins for the winning run. With Arizona topping the Padres yesterday, the Phillies emerged as the lone undefeated team among those that have played a game in the National League.
Monday, April 5: Jacob deGrom vs. Matt Moore, 7:05 p.m. on SNY
deGrom (2020): 68.0 IP, 104 K, 18 BB, 7 HR, 2.38 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 0.96 WHIP, 2.7 bWAR
deGrom fell short of his third consecutive Cy Young Award, coming in third behind that former Reds starter and Yu Darvish. He was still his routinely brilliant self, and he was in serious contention until the very end, but a few September missteps cost him a legitimate shot at earning the honor. Still, deGrom maintained a firm grasp on the title of “Best pitcher in baseball”, and there’s little reason to think that will change this season. His fastball touched 102mph multiple times during spring, and he posted some truly eye-opening numbers during the spring. In 13.2 innings, he struck out 21 against just three walks, and allowed just one run on a wind-aided home run.
Moore (2020 in Japan): 85.0 IP, 98 K, 26 BB, 7 HR, 2.65 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
Moore spent last season in Japan, pitching for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Nippon Baseball League. He put up solid numbers in his lone year in Japan, even pitching seven no-hit innings in Game Three of the 2020 Japan Series as his team went on to sweep the series from the Yomiuri Giants. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball since April 6, 2019, and made just two starts that year for the Tigers. His best season in the majors came in 2013 for the Rays, when he made his lone All Star team and finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting. He enters 2021 with a career 5.1 bWAR and a 4.51 ERA in 894.2 innings.
Tuesday, April 6: Marcus Stroman vs. Chase Anderson, 7:05 p.m. on SNY
Stroman (2019 with Mets): 59.2 IP, 60 K, 24 BB, 8 HR, 3.77 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 1.48 WHIP, 1.4 bWAR
Stroman suffered an injury during summer camp last July, and he chose to opt out due to COVID-19 concerns while rehabbing. He came back after accepting a qualifying offer and, after a strong spring showing, he will step in as the team’s second starter behind Jacob deGrom. Stroman struggled a bit with walks in his brief time with the Mets in the latter half of the 2019 season, posting an 8.8% BB% after arriving in New York. Stroman showed a lot of positive signs this spring, as he struck out 17 while walking just two batters in 18.1 innings. He finished with a 3.44 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.
Anderson (2020): 33.2 IP, 38 K, 10 BB, 11 HR, 7.22 ERA, 6.16 FIP, 1.63 WHIP, -0.5 bWAR
Anderson will make his first start for Philadelphia after spending the 2020 season with the Blue Jays. He signed a one-year deal with the Phillies in an effort to strengthen the back part of their rotation. Anderson, who call the Diamondbacks and Brewers home during his first five major league seasons, will have to hope that a return to the National League will help him regain his form. After putting up a 3.94 ERA in his first five major league seasons, he posted a 7.22 ERA with Toronto in 2020. He impressed his new team during spring training, allowing five earned runs over 14.2 innings while striking out 15 and walking nine.
Wednesday, April 7: David Peterson vs. Aaron Nola, 4:05 p.m. on SNY
Peterson (2020): 49.2 IP, 40 K, 24 BB, 5 HR, 3.44 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 1.6 bWAR
Peterson had a successful first go-around in the major leagues in last year’s shortened season, posting solid numbers across the board as the team’s fifth starter. The left-hander has made the Opening Day roster for the first time and will slot into the three spot until Carrasco and/or Syndergaard return to the team. He had two outings last year against the Nationals and was impressive in each one, tossing five innings of one-run ball at Citi Field on August 13 to pick his third career victory and hurling seven one-run innings on September 24 to earn the team their final win of 2020.
Aaron Nola (2020): 71.1 IP, 96 K, 23 BB, 9 HR, 3.28 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 1.08 WHIP, 2.1 bWAR
Nola was in control on Opening Day against Atlanta and turned in a stellar first showing for the 2021 season. The lone blemish against him was a game-tying, two-run home run off the bat Pablo Sandoval on the final pitch he threw, which deprived him of a victory. Still, he did not walk a batter and recorded six strikeouts on the afternoon. Philadelphia’s ace finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting last seasons, and if he can turn in more starts like his one on Thursday, he will likely insert himself into that conversation again this year.
Prediction: The Mets will win the first two but come short of a sweep.
How will the Mets fare in their three game series against the Phillies?
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Baseball was worth the wait as the Mets sweep the Phillies!
The Mets take two out of three to start the season in style.
The Mets drop two out of three at Citizens Bank Park.
The Mets fall flat as they’re swept out of the City of Brotherly Love.