Monday, March 31, 2014

N.Y. Mets: Play Ball..!! Opening Day In The Citi

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Polo Grounds; 0-2
Shea Stadium; 30-15
Citi Field; 4-1



The New York Mets lost their only two Opening Days played at the Polo Grounds.  They proceeded to christen Shea Stadium with six more consecutive losses.  The team didn't win their first Opening Day game until 1970, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 5-3 score.

By then, the team finally got this Opening Day thing figured out.  Between 1975 and 1983, the Mets won nine consecutive times.  In all, the Mets rebounded from an 0-6 start in their 2nd park, to finish with a 30-15 record at Shea Stadium.

The Mets head into Monday's game with a 4-1 record in Citi Field home openers, and are riding a two game win streak.  Their lone loss over the last five openers came in 2011, at the hands of their modern arch nemesis, the Miami Marlins.

Dillon Gee has been given the privilege of making this year's Opening Day start.  This will be his first.  He will be the 24th different pitcher in 53 years of Mets history to make this start.

Roger Craig made the first Opening Day start in Mets history.  Al Jackson made the first opening start at Shea Stadium.  Johan Santana started the first opener at Citi Field.

Tom Seaver is credited with the Mets first Opening Day win, and leads the team with 11 starts. Dwight Gooden is second with 8 starts, followed by Tom Glavine and Johan Santana, who started 4 games each.

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Dillon Gee will be facing off against Stephen Strasburg, and the Washington Nationals.  Jon Niese was originally scheduled to make this start, but will begin the season on the disabled list until a fifth starter is needed.  Niese developed discomfort in his shoulder and elbow during spring training, but will apparently be ready when needed around April 6th.

The Washington Nationals are widely regarded as the National League East favorites this season. They've fortified their pitching with the addition of Doug Fister, and have handed the helm over to new rookie manager Matt Williams.

Some of the other interesting developments within the division this season, include the defections of Brian McCann from the Braves to the Yankees, and the problems Atlanta had refortifying their pitching.  Freddie Freeman enters the season as a legitimate MVP candidate, and Craig Kimbrel is a flat out stud.  If they can keep things together, the Braves look to pose the biggest threat to Washington this season.

Ryne Sandberg begins his first season as field manager of the Phillies.  Age is fast becoming an issue in Philadelphia, and I have a sneaky suspicion GM Ruben Amaro will not idly sit by.  I expect him to be active this season, and make some rather unpopular decisions.

Forever young - the Miami Marlins will be improved, and will give the division fits.  They have two very young players in particular, a pitcher and outfielder, who each possess great potential of capturing this season's Cy Young and MVP award respectively.  On a side note, I thought the Mets had it bad, but Miami's ownership is horrific.

In the National League East, I think the Mets and Marlins will be improved enough to prevent the Washington Nationals from running away, and in effect, keeping the Braves alive in the race for first place.  One of the National League's Wild Cards will likely come from this division.  That's where the Mets come in.

The 2014 season was slated to be the time when things began gaining focus at the major league level.  Sandy Alderson's minor league work has been well discussed.  With still much to address and improve upon, I believe, at least the direction in Flushing has been set.  The younger players of the organization are starting to assume their places.  It is a process still trying to gain momentum, but the process has been started nonetheless.

This season, anything less than a .500 record should not be regarded as a step forward.  A wild card?  Perchance to dream...

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Sandy Alderson provided a few surprises in selecting his final 25-man roster.  Most notable, Jenrry Mejia has been declared the 5th starter, which means Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the season in Las Vegas, and provide a first line of insurance for the rotation.

The Mets will start the season with Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon, and Jenrry Mejia, until Jon Niese joins the rotation next week.  The light schedule allows the Mets go with four pitchers, and utilize an extra bench player until then.

After a poor Grapefruit League performance, reliever Vic Black will also start the season in Las Vegas.  That's a big blow to the bullpen.  When Bobby Parnell's status was still in question, Black was an early candidate to fill the closer's role.  His demotion opened the door for Germen Gonzalez, who was only recently informed he was heading north.

The Mets will begin the season with a bullpen comprised of Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, Scott Rice, John Lannan, Germen Gonzalez, Carlos Torres, and late winter free agent acquisition, Jose Valverde.

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Ike Davis still on the team and playing first base forces Lucas Duda to find playing time in an outfield already riddled with issues.  Duda's innings will no doubt cut into Eric Young's and Juan Lagares' innings.  Then, on the one hand, fans are clamoring for Juan Lagares' defense in centerfield, while on the other hand, fans are faced with Coach Terry's man crush with EYJ at the top of the line-up.

On a side note, in order to get Chris Young signed, Sandy Alderson promised him a starting role. He just didn't promise Young which outfield position.  Now Duda's addition to the outfield mix really makes Coach Terry's positioning a transient matter.

All that said, hello Curtis Granderson.  He adds a complimentary home run threat to the line-up. The Mets ranked near the bottom of most offensive categories last season.  Sandy Alderson is hoping the additions of Granderson and Chris Young, will have positive effects on the line-up, and increases run production.

If solidifying the outfield was Sandy Aderson's major accomplishment of the winter, the fact that Ruben Tejada will start the season at shortstop points to Sandy Alderson's ultimate failure.  To date, he has not, or could not upgrade the position through free agency or a trade.  The Mets additionally lack a minor league shortstop of note, or at least one ready to assume the position any time soon.  Best case scenario - Ruben Tejada provides even a mild surprise.  Omar Quintanilla was awarded a trip north to Flushing as a back-up.

Travis d'Arnaud hit 3 home runs in Grapefruit League play, but only batted .170 in 47 at-bats.  The Mets aren't necessarily interested in power, so much as they want d'Arnaud to be an above average contact hitter.  But, Travis has so far played himself into an after though in pre-season ROY considerations.  The Mets clearly need him to turn things around sooner than later this season.

Still at the heart of all things Mets, is third baseman and team captain, David Wright.  As he goes, so will the Mets.  He is obviously one of the players the Mets can least afford to have go down. But, if the Mets want to keep him on the field, and have him be productive, they'll need to do their part, and start taking better care of him.

Opposing pitchers have routinely thrown at David Wright without fear of consequence.  That must change immediately.  Rules be damned, because the pitcher who beans first, does so with impunity. Part of policing this is Dan Warthen's responsibility, working in concert with his pitchers.  That's where guys like Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon (and Matt Harvey) come in.  I believe they are just the types to make that stand, and do what's necessary to protect their players.

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All that's left is to play the games.  The 53rd season of Amazin' baseball starts now.

Let's Go Mets!


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