By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer
The New York Mets opened their 2017 campaign by taking two out of three games against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. The Mets starting pitching staff looks as advertised – dominant and powerful. Ace RHP Noah Syndergaard was brilliant in the opener against the Braves, throwing six overpowering innings (6 IPs, 0 ERs, 5 Hs, 7 Ks, 0 BB), before a blister on his right ring finger forced his premature exit. Jacob deGrom looked equally as strong in his season debut (6 IPs, 0 ERs, 2 Hs, 6 Ks, 1 BB), throwing hard and displaying command in a game that the Mets eventually lost 3-1 in extra innings. And, finally, Matt Harvey (6.2 IPs, 2 ERs, 3 Hs, 4 Ks, 0 BB) looked like his Dark Knight-self, pitching into the seventh inning on Thursday night with his velocity registering in the mid-90s. It was Harvey’s first appearance on the mound since last July 4th, following his season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.
On Friday, the Mets will look for more positive signs from their rotation with RHP Zack Wheeler on Friday night against the Miami Marlins. Returning from 2015 Tommy John surgery, it will be Wheeler’s first regular season outing since September 25, 2014. RHP Robert Gsellman, who won the rotation’s 5th spot after a strong spring, will take the mound on Saturday night. Noah Syndergaard, who was originally scheduled to start on Saturday, will now pitch on Sunday night in the nationally televised ESPN game after being pushed back one day because of his blister. On the injury front, RHP Seth Lugo was diagnosed with a partial tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament. For now, he’ll look to avoid Tommy John-surgery with a combination of rest for the elbow and platelet rich plasma therapy.
Mets – Miami Marlins series notes (7-9 April).
Mets: OF Yoenis Cespedes hammered Miami pitching in 2016. Cespedes batted .333 with three home runs, four doubles, and 11 RBIs in 18 games. Against LHP Wei-Yin Chen, Miami’s Friday night starter, Cespedes is 5-for-16 (.333) with a home run.
Marlins: Speaking of Chen, who is coming off a disappointing and injury-plagued 2016 season (his first with the Marlins, 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 22 starts), he is still looking for his first career hit in the major leagues. Chen went 0-for-44 at the plate in 2016, and is now 0-for-50 in his career. The MLB record for futility is held by the Cubs’ LHP Jon Lester, who was an astonishing 0-for-66 before he collected his first MLB hit in 2015, off then-Cardinal and now teammate, John Lackey. Conversely, Miami OF Giancarlo Stanton has hit 27 career home against the Mets, his second most against an opposing team; he has hit 28 against the Nationals.
Here’s how the schedule and pitching matchups look for the upcoming weekend against Miami (all times Eastern):
7 April vs. Miami, 7:10 pm: RHP Zack Wheeler vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
8 April vs. Miami, 7:10 pm: RHP Robert Gsellman vs. LHP Adam Conley
9 April vs. Miami, 8:00 pm: RHP Noah Syndergaard vs. RHP Edinson Volquez
After concluding the opening six-game home stand, the Mets will head out on the road for the first time in 2017, with stops in Philadelphia and Miami. The Mets will play the Marlins seven times over their next 10 games:
10 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm: RHP Jacob deGrom vs. Jerad Eickhoff
11 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm: RHP Matt Harvey vs. TBD
12 April vs. Philadelphia, 7:10 pm
13 April at Miami, 7:10 pm
14 April at Miami, 7:10 pm
15 April at Miami, 7:10 pm
16 April at Miami, 1:10 pm
This week in Mets’ history:
April 8, 1969: The Montreal Expos defeat the Mets, 11-10, on Opening Day at Shea Stadium despite a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning by Mets’ backup catcher Duffy Dyer.
April 9, 2001: Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza and OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo swat home runs, and behind starter Kevin Appier, the Mets defeat the Braves, 9-4, as 53,640 fans watch the National League championship banner raised at Shea.
April 10, 1969: Mets’ OF Tommie Agee belts two home runs, including a monster shot to the left-field upper deck off the Expos’ Larry Jaster, the only fair ball in Shea Stadium’s history to reach the left-field upper deck. The spot is later marked with Agee’s number No. 20.
April 11, 1962: The humble beginning. After the originally scheduled opener was rained out the day before in St. Louis, the Mets make their franchise debut against the Cardinals. Before a crowd of 16,147 at Busch Stadium, the Mets fall, 11-4, to St. Louis. Mets’ 3B Gus Bell’s second-inning single is the first Mets hit and 1B Gil Hodges collects the team’s first home run in the fourth inning. Mets’ starter, RHP Roger Craig suffers the loss.
April 13, 1967. Mets’ RHP Tom Seaver pitches in his first Major League game. Seaver gets a no-decision as the Mets top Pittsburgh, 3-2, at Shea. Tom hurls 5 1/3 innings, allows six hits, two runs, four walks. He had eight strikeouts.
April 14, 1968. Mets’ rookie RHP Nolan Ryan shuts out Houston over 6 2/3 innings to earn his first big league win against the Astros, 4-0.
Out on the road with some West Coast baseball. This week, I had the opportunity to travel out West to see some stadiums for the first time. A great time (Kurt Smith would have loved it!) and an opportunity to do some scouting on teams in both leagues.
In Arizona, the Diamondbacks do look ready to rebound after a disappointing 2016. The D’Backs have a strong offense, if their pitching holds, they could be a surprise team – as you read last week, I have them as an NL Wild Card team…which would be surprise. On the other hand, early returns on the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen are not positive. Newly-signed free agent closer, RHP Mark Melancon faltered on Opening Day against Arizona blowing a save, and the rest of the Giant pen look much like they did in 2016 – shaky. It’s only one series, but definitely something to monitor by the Bay.
On the American league side, the California Angels are on the road back to contention, led by their defense and with a more athletic roster. Now led by General Manager Billy Eppler (former Yankee Assistant GM), the Angels are again valuing defense and range in their position players, both at the major and minor league levels. This plays to Manager Mike Scioscia’s preferred style of play, which is best described as “National League baseball”, with emphasis on pitching and team speed. The Angels had strayed away from that winning formula in recent years, relying more on station-to-station offense and power. The Angels are a long-shot to contend in 2017 with their shallow pool of starting pitching, but they will be better than last year’s 74-88 showing.