Here are 10 observations from the Mets Opening day 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals. This win ran their Opening Day record to 35-19 which gives them the best winning percentage on Opening Day in the history of the majors.
1. No win early in the season is small or big….but you have to think for the Mets, winning this game was huge. First there was the uproar over Bartolo Colon starting. Then there’s the fact that the Nationals are missing their leadoff hitter (Denard Span), possibly their best hitter (Anthony Rendon) and their highest salaried position player (Jayson Werth). So take this win with a grain of salt. But beating a team that absolutely owned you last season in a tight contest is huge. Consider that last year in games that were decided by 3 runs or less in which the Mets and Nationals played the Mets were 2-10 and overall were 4-15. Don’t discount how big of a win yesterday was considering your two best pitchers haven’t even pitched yet. A series win over the Nationals will help open the season the kind of way that can legitimize all the talk of playoffs and taking the town that the Mets have been doing.
2. The Bartolo effect- When Terry Collins named Bartolo Colon the Opening Day starter the fans reacted as if the Mets had given the fan base a big middle finger. But the more I watched Bartolo yesterday afternoon, I began to understand the reasoning behind the decision. Harvey would’ve been way too pumped up and his aggressiveness may have backfired big time. The only other candidate that could have pitched was Jacob DeGrom the 2014 Rookie of the Year and he is the right guy to start the CitiField home opener. He deserved it.
Colon faced jams in the first and sixth inning and like a true pro never wavered. Using his ability to paint the corners and pitch inside and mix in his slider to keep hitters off balance, Colon was able to limit damage despite the error by Murphy in the first. He went on to strike out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and I don’t know that Harvey who would’ve been pitching with so much juice could’ve navigated that first inning or DeGrom not experienced enough to handle the jitters that come with Opening Day. I will keep trumpeting Colon’s presence in that clubhouse. You saw his value when he worked his way around jams. Don’t think that the other pitchers weren’t watching and studying and trying to soak in as much knowledge from this almost-42 year old pitcher who has seen it all. He’s also seen another Opening Day win for the Mets- his first since 2006 when he went against, wait for it, 42 year old Jamie Moyer.
3. Lucas “The Duda”- Its one game so let’s not overthink this. But the Mets were talking long term contract with Lucas Duda which means his 30HR season last year is considered by Mets officials to be legitimate. The one thing about the analytics folk, they give up their hand when they voluntarily try to lock up a player before they have to. Yesterday Duda broke up the no-hitter in a way that shows that he may be able to improve upon last year’s season by becoming a better hitter. Against a pitcher that was serving him fastballs, daring him to muscle one out Duda put a level headed swing on a pitch belt high in the sixth with two in scoring position after Ian Desmond’s error. He may hit only 29 HR’s but his batting average and on-base percentage will most likely go up if he continues to embrace the approach of situational hitting. His season is probably one of the most important and critical to the Mets success.
4. Curious lineup for the Mets- Where to begin? How about David Wright hitting 2nd. Or Juan Lagares, having spent the entire Spring Training, being told he was going to hit leadoff and getting valuable reps there batting sixth. Or the talk of hitting the pitcher 8th yet putting Colon 9th. The Mets made some very curious decisions that ultimately worked but messing with a player’s head like Lagares who you’re hoping will elevate his game is a dangerous game to play.
5. Jenry Mejia’s elbow tenderness-
Speaking of which, one of the reasons cited for bringing up 8 relievers was perhaps the Mets, having been warned of Mejia’s tenderness by Mejia on Saturday, made the decision that in the event Mejia’s condition worsened they would be prepared. But this is another short sighted decision by Mets brass, almost putting their chips in the middle of the table for the first series of the season- tipping their hand on how important this series was for them internally. Why not put Mejia on the 15 day DL to start the season? Why insist on having Mejia there if there’s even a hint that he’s not 100%. There’s a reason why Rendon and Werth and Span, who were seen prior to the game hitting line drives, weren’t in yesterday’s game. Just goes to show how organizations who truly are in it to contend operate as opposed to the wannabe’s. Mejia flying up to get an MRI is just a procedural thing but having seen four pitchers go under the knife and get Tommy John- there’s a general sense of trepidation that for the second year in a row- the Mets will lose their Opening Day closer for the year ON Opening Day.
6. Bullpen solid- Colon left after six great innings almost-matching $210M import Max Scherzer striking out 8 in 1.2 innings less of work. Colon probably would’ve came out for the seventh had the Mets not been threatening in the top of the 7th when Travis D’Arnaud tripled to score Juan Lagares and the pitcher’s spot came up. The Mets then turned to their bullpen who after years of putting scares and mixing general discomfort into the fan base and the team, turned into a legitimate strength. Before we even knew about Mejia’s injury (it was only reported in the bottom of the 9th when Jerry Blevins came in to match up against Bryce Harper) the Mets were likely going to go Carlos Torres for the 7th, Jeurys Familia in the 8th and Mejia in the 9th. During Spring Training while Harvey and DeGrom were dominating, and the offense was producing, the bullpen was anything but ready. But again, let’s not read too much into one game. While we won’t know much about Mejia today, expect the Mets to use their bullpen extensively especially when you consider they want to limit Matt Harvey’s innings and know that Bartolo Colon is 41 years old and if they bring up one or two of Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard- they will need a bullpen to perhaps come in on the 5th or 6th inning. A nice touch for the Mets to get Buddy Carlisle his first save after pitching so well for them last year.
7. Travis D’Arnaud’s effect- You will only appreciate D’Arnaud’s effect on the pitching staff if you are a big fan of pitch framing and the general analytics that go into it. But that’s where D’Arnaud shines. He is one of the best at locating pitches that are borderline strikes and moving them ever so slightly to occupy an umpire’s strike zone. Especially yesterday when he works with Colon its a thing of beauty. Colon knows where to throw it and D’Arnaud knows where to keep it for both the hitter to think twice and for the umpire to call a strike.
But when his offense wasn’t justifying his framing talent, and he was demoted to Triple A something else happened. D’Arnaud became less the patient hitter and more the opportunist. So many folks mistake the Mets approach as simply to get on base. The Mets primary objective on offense is to attack pitches in the zone and wait those pitches out. D’Arnaud did a great job yesterday in locating the belt high slider that when he got it, he made the Nationals pay and scored their third run, the very necessary insurance run to give the Mets a lead they never relinquished. D’Arnaud’s projections all point to him contributing close to 20 HR’s which if that is the case, will allow the Mets to have lineup protection everywhere.
8. MLB’s rule changes taking effect. By my count, only four players didn’t take at least one opportunity to step out of the batter’s box. The Mets played a 2 hr 35min game which is pretty good if you’re hoping to keep the games shorter than 3 hours. I’m all in favor of keeping 9 inning games shorter by forcing the player to stay in the batter’s box. Some hitters like to wander the earth before settling in for each pitch which unnecessarily drags out at-bats. No need. Smart move Rob Manfred.
9. Future Met shortstop Ian Desmond and the disastrous sixth inning- I often wonder how the Mets would be perceived heading into the season if they had pulled off the rumored trade for Ian Desmond involving the Tampa Bay Rays that they were going to pull the trigger on. Consider yesterday as a reminder why you hesitate. The contract year Ian Desmond’s error in the 7th (a bounced throw to first time 1b Ryan Zimmerman which he couldn’t scoop up) was not like the boneheaded mistake he made in the 6th which ultimately lost the game for the Nats. Desmond raced over to shallow right field and called off Dan Uggla who would’ve presumably made the play had he not been called off in the last second by Desmond who gave up on it in the last second. Before that Scherzer was cruising and throwing a no-hitter and was about to get out of the inning had they made that routine play. After that Duda hit a game deciding single driving in two giving the Mets the lead. That play was the turning point of the game. It kept Scherzer in one batter too long in the sixth and Lucas “The Duda” made them pay with a bases clearing single and the Mets went on to win. This is not the first time Desmond has lost concentration or made a boneheaded mistake. But you will take all of that when you consider that he’s one of the few shortstops that can both hit and hit for power if need be as evidenced by his three consecutive years of hitting 20+ HR’s. He has the highest home run total of shortstops in the last three years, a position where if you have a guy with power you are ahead of the curve. In fact, he has the three best home run totals since 2012 which is ultimately why he figures he can fetch more than the reported $107M the Nationals offered over 7 years. The fact is, the Nations have some tough decisions to make and with the Mets uncertain over Flores’ future at short, they may be in the market for a shortstop and may spend money on Desmond IF they contend this year and the dollars make sense. Remember, while the Mets may have a New York zip code, they are still making decisions like a ball club mindful of limited resources with which to work with. I wonder if some of the mistakes Desmond had weren’t of his own doing- trying too hard to make a positive impression on future employers.
10. Look ahead- Tomorrow’s game features an excellent pitching matchup as the defending NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom faces up against the contract year Jordan Zimmerman. DeGrom has looked excellent all spring and has again been relegated to second status in a city caught up in Harvey-mania. I admit that I haven’t given DeGrom his just due, but many within the Mets organization and in the press that cover him feel DeGrom is on the path to greatness as well having been a converted shortstop only five years ago and now the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. None of this is lost on DeGrom, as he displays a maturity that tells you that he isn’t caught up or content on just the rookie of the year nod. He went from unknown to mainstay in this vaunted rotation- another arm that is making the Mets stable of young pitching that much greater. The contract year Jordan Zimmerman is another underrated pitcher overshadowed by a flame throwing teammate of his own. He is of course entering the final year of his contract and many wonder about what Max Scherzer’s commitment means to Zimmerman’s future and how that decision will relate to Stephen Strassburg’s future in a Nationals uniform. Keeping all three may be too difficult but they have an old owner desperate for a world series and he may be willing to spend, but keeping those two and contract year Ian Desmond may prove difficult. Zimmerman’s first start of the season will be one of hopefully for their sake a 30 part tryout for a big contract. Don’t think homegrown players didn’t sit up and take notice of Scherzer’s contract. They will want similar deals. Its interesting given the expectations surrounding this team whether it won’t prove to be a distraction all summer long.