I doubt that come October the Washington Nationals are going to worry all that much about opening the year 1-2 against the New York Mets. It won’t matter. The Nats will proudly sport a shiny record of 100-59 or something equally obscene, sitting 10+ games ahead of the second place Mets all the while secretly terrified of the wild card leading Cubs to begin a division series in Nationals Park. The nights are crisp and the leaves are burnt orange. We’ll all be discussing why Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to start game 4.
It will matter to the Mets.
When the calendar turns and the Mets and Nats play one last series at Citi Field, the Mets will be competing for the second wild card while the Nats will be lining up their postseason rotation. Can the Mets make it to the postseason for the first time since 2006? Will the Nats finally win a series?
There are different questions with different expectations, but it all started in April when the Mets finally won a series against the Nats.
Last year the Nats kicked off their regular season of whoop ass by sweeping the Mets in New York by a combined score of 22-10. The Mets went 4-15 against the NL’s best, not winning their second game against Washington until August 5th. Or, you know, five months into a six-month long season.
So, this series matters. It matters because unless the Mets enjoy being the South to Washington’s Sherman, they needed to prove to themselves that things were different. Things are different. This year is different. No one believes there’s a team that can match up with the Nats over the regular season, much less the Mets, but don’t stand around and let the Nats and their wealth of pitching riches bludgeon you winless.
Realistically, being 2-1 doesn’t guarantee anything. Last year only one of the AL teams that made it to the postseason had a winning record after three games (Detroit at 3-0) while the Angels started 0-3. In 2013 the White Sox started 2-1 before settling into an eventual record of 63-99 while both Colorado and the Mets started 2-1 and both finished 74-88. I get it. It’s a long, long season.1 It wasn’t as though the Mets dominated this three-game set either. The Mets recorded just four earned runs in 18 innings against the trio of Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg, but April isn’t exactly a time of offense in Nationals Park either. The ball doesn’t carry in the cold early spring afternoons, so bloopers and Ian Desmond errors are how you have to win.
Much will be made that the Nationals were without the top three hitters in last season’s lineup as Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, and Jayson Werth are all recovering from injuries. Michael Taylor acquitted himself just fine playing center for the injured Span, and the addition of Rendon and Werth wouldn’t have helped solve the too right heavy lineup that will trouble the team all year and saw manager Matt Williams start 30-year old rookie Clint Robinson in left on Thursday just to provide a little bit of balance. Span certainly would have, and the addition of Rendon (a perennial MVP candidate) would have helped just by his awesomeness and allowing Dan Uggla to spend his time spitting sunflower seeds rather than swinging through pitches. Werth can still work the count and hit a dozen home runs or so. His defense is always an adventure, but he would have improved upon that combined 0-8 with three strikeouts the Nats received from their starting leftfielders in the series.
I don’t think in this series, in that weather, the trio’s inclusion would have changed the outcome all that much. There’s no critical analysis to follow that statement. It’s just a random thought. A fleeting, effervescent thing.
After much had been made of Bartolo Colon being honored with an Opening Day start (a decision I felt was the wrong one) he matched the high-priced Scherzer strikeout for strikeout and allowed a lowly three hits in six strong innings. Jacob deGrom followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with six solid innings. It was a relief too for those of us who’d read all winter long that regression was in order due to his high line drive rates. I wasn’t worried. deGrom against Zimmermann was a pretty spectacular match up even if neither pitcher was particularly sharp.
Then, yesterday, Matt Harvey returned with 91 pitches, touching 97 with his fastball and striking out 9. He struck out Bryce Harper three times with chest high heaters that were untouchable even to the violent swing of a kid that absolutely destroys misplaced fastballs. He mixed in a wicked curve, starting out Taylor with the hook in each of three at-bats against Harvey, while mixing in some sliders and his change. He left a few over that plate, but mostly he was every bit as fantastic as Mets’ fans had hoped he would be.
After Harvey’s first spring training start I enthusiastically stated he would win the Cy Young, and I refuse to back away from that statement after yesterday’s start. He won’t get the innings to compete with Clayton Kershaw or Johnny Cueto or the Nats rotation, but I see no reason to recant my drunken boast now.
Three games in the Mets travel to Atlanta to face a Braves team that is 3-0 after sweeping the Marlins. This is what you call an object lesson in not giving too much credence to early beginnings as Atlanta will compete with Philadelphia for the bottom of the East. Like Jack Kerouac said, “the bottom of the world is gold and the world is upside down.” That’s early season baseball for you.
photo credit: Franchise of the Future: Matt Harvey via photopin (license)
- I like to think of those first three games as the series that introduced the offensive dynamic duo of Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Mets’ fans. They were great in that series, but more importantly they were traded off to Pittsburgh for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for essentially $700K (Byrd signing) and as a throw in when the Mets traded R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud. I love typing that. Yeah, that was a pretty good deal I guess. ↩