The New York Mets did what they usually do, beginning their season with a winning note in a 2-0 shutout over the Washington Nationals on Opening Day. That victory was the Mets’ 38th in their last 50 Opening Days, a remarkable run of excellence to start seasons, and it featured a potentially dynamite winning formula. A combination of excellent starting pitching, timely hitting, and strong work from the bullpen could set the Mets up for a very successful season.
In terms of the starting pitching, which is the Mets’ bread-and-butter, they have to be highly encouraged to see Jacob deGrom out-duel Max Scherzer. deGrom basically lived through another one of his 2018 starts, getting an early run and not much else while he was in the game, and made it stand up despite not having his best stuff. The Nationals squandered several opportunities to scratch a run across against deGrom, who has now delivered 25 consecutive quality starts dating back to last season.
The Mets’ offense couldn’t do a ton against Scherzer, who was piling up the strikeouts (partially thanks to a generous strike zone from home plate umpire Bill Miller) early and often, but they converted thanks to the clutch hits from Robinson Cano. Cano’s early opposite field homer off of Scherzer gave the Mets a lead they would never relinquish, and his bloop RBI hit in the eighth gave them a valuable insurance run. The Mets also benefited from Cano’s experience defensively at second as he was able to bait a rookie runner into taking off for the plate, resulting in an inning ending double play.
Another facet of the game that was important for the Mets was their much-improved bullpen, which tossed three shutout innings after deGrom departed in the sixth. Seth Lugo was excellent in the seventh, while Jeurys Familia worked around a hit batter in the eighth, setting the stage for Edwin Diaz’s first save opportunity as a Met. Diaz did get tagged a bit, but those balls found their way into the waiting glove of Keon Broxton, who entered for defense late in the game.
This has to be the formula that General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen envisioned when he put the Mets’ roster together this winter. The Mets look the part of a much more complete team, and that is even without key offensive contributors like Jed Lowrie, Todd Frazier, and Travis d’Arnaud. Instead of simply relying on pure power hitting and power pitching to win, the Mets are now a more well-rounded group that can win in multiple ways, but the simplest path to victory is the one they demonstrated yesterday.
It’s way too early to say the Mets will have a successful season off of just one game, but they definitely have the means of duplicating that formula on a fairly consistent basis. The Mets picked up a win against one of the more difficult pitchers they’ll face all year long in Scherzer, and it will be easier for them to generate offense when they get to some of the lesser quality arms around the league. The improved offense should also lead to more run production for the Mets so that guys like deGrom and Noah Syndergaard don’t need to have perfect outings every time they take the mound.
It is also a bit symbolic that Cano and Diaz, the two pieces that came over from the Seattle Mariners in the trade that kicked off Van Wagenen’s retooling of the roster, played key roles in the victory. deGrom, who Van Wagenen wanted to extend from the time he took the Mets’ job in November, also looked strong again as well. Perhaps the more optimistic Mets’ fan will look at this game as a sign that the plan Van Wagenen put together is wise and will work, while the pessimists will argue that it is just one game and there is plenty of work left to do in a division where four teams can legitimately contend for the crown.
That is the beauty of baseball, however, in that Opening Day brings a whole new set of possibilities over the course of a six month season. The Mets and their fans, for at least one day, can dream that everything goes right and they have just discovered the blueprint to a playoff run. 2015 showed how dangerous the Mets can be when they get into the postseason thanks to their brilliant rotation, but the issue has often been putting together the 90+ victories required to get there. It may be way too early to plan a parade down the Canyon of Heroes or build Van Wagenen a statue outside of Citi Field, but something just feels different about the Mets this year. Hopefully it will lead to a far better campaign than their fans have experienced over the past decade, where the Mets have been below .500 eight times.