WASHINGTON — So much has changed for the Mets since 2016, when they last made the playoffs. Rosters are bound to change, but the Mets’ overhaul goes much deeper. They have, to name just a few key personalities, a new manager, a new general manager and a new team owner – the last one in that group makes the biggest difference in the direction of a franchise.
The franchise’s past decade has been marked more by losses and drama than gains and stability. The Mets, whose last World Series title came in 1986, have only made the playoffs twice since 2007. They were in first place for most of the first four months of last season, only to collapse and finish 77-85. But after a winter of continued transformation, one of the most eagerly awaited seasons in the team’s recent history lies ahead, beginning with an easy 5-1 win over the Nationals on Thursday night in Washington, DC
Mets 5, Nationals 1
box score | Play by play
Given the unexpected assignment on opening day due to ace Jacob deGrom’s shoulder injury, Tylor Megill, who came into the day with 18 career starts, threw five innings scoreless and conceded just three hits. New fielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha each rode in one run. Hoping to bounce back from his tough first season with the Mets, shortstop Francisco Lindor chimed in with a run. Second baseman Robinson Cano returned from a year’s suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and added two hits.
It was just a game to begin a six-month journey that will have unexpected twists and turns, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Mets.
The 2022 MLB season begins
Baseball is back after a labor dispute delayed the start of the season.
“We’re not going to win them all, but we’re going to try,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said after the game.
Under the previous owners, the Wilpons, that didn’t always seem to be the case for so long. The Mets languished in the National League rankings and in the Major League Baseball payroll despite playing in the largest media market in the United States.
But under second-year owner Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager with a reported net worth of over $15 billion, the team now has MLB’s wealthiest majority owner and is acting accordingly. According to FanGraphs, only the constantly competing Los Angeles Dodgers ($293 million for luxury tax purposes) have a higher payroll in MLB than the Mets’ franchise-record $286 million.
When healthy — a challenge right now — the Mets have two of the best pitchers in baseball in right-handers Max Scherzer, 37, and deGrom, 33, each of whom has won multiple Cy Young Awards. While deGrom may be out for months with a shoulder injury that is dampening the team’s prospects, the Mets received encouraging news about Scherzer’s tight hamstring ahead of Thursday’s game and plan to let him make his Mets debut on Friday. And luckily for the Mets, they struck a trade with the Oakland Athletics in March for right-handed starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star.
To keep improving the team this season, the Mets spent a total of $254.5 million on infielders Eduardo Escobar, Marte, Canha and Scherzer. They join a roster that includes key players who underperformed last year like catcher James McCann, second baseman and outfielders Jeff McNeil and Lindor.
“We just want to play great baseball,” Scherzer, who won the 2019 World Series with the Nationals, said before Thursday’s game. “There’s a lot of talent here. Many steps have been taken in the off-season to boost talent here. It’s up to us to come together as a team and as a clubhouse, play well as a team and do our best. We need a good start right from the start.”
Mets general manager Billy Eppler never built a playoff team in his five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, but he has proven he can attract some of the best players in baseball. (He lured two-way star Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 American League MVP, from Japan to Anaheim, Calif.) And Showalter, who boasts a .506 career win ratio with four different teams over his past 20 years, is the one most experienced skipper they have employed in a while.
“He’s really, really organized,” said Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who didn’t start Thursday’s season opener because of a stiff neck. “He’s precise. He will be prepared. I don’t think we’re going to lose a game because Buck wasn’t prepared.”
Nimmo is naturally cheerful, but earlier this season he noted that the squad assembled by Cohen and Eppler made him “really optimistic”. Referring to the new players, Nimmo said, “These guys have a long track record in the big leagues.”
The playoff field has been expanded from 10 to 12 teams in the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement, which should make the return to the playoffs a little easier, but the Mets’ division, the NL East, will be strong. The Nationals are rebuilding, but the Miami Marlins ($89 million) and Philadelphia Phillies ($204 million) spent significant sums on free-agent upgrades this winter, according to Spotrac. The Phillies didn’t spend much on defense but added strong at-bats from outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber.
The team to beat is Atlanta, the reigning World Series champion. Though Atlanta let longtime star first baseman Freddie Freeman depart via free agency, after a series of moves, Atlanta has a franchise-record $206 million in payroll from trading the athletics for star first baseman Matt Olson (and his signing for eight years at $168). million-extension), the signing of outfielder Eddie Rosario and the addition of former Dodgers seamer Kenley Jansen.
“It’s going to be a tough league with a lot of good teams and talent,” said Scherzer. “Everyone has to do their best”
That started on Thursday with Megill. With deGrom injured just before opening day, Scherzer struggling with a minor leg injury, and Showalter not wanting to mess with the other starting pitchers’ schedules, the Mets turned to Megill. “Most of the time I felt very relaxed,” he said.
Megill delivered, as did the bullpen and the Mets’ lineup, which scored 12. The Mets’ only blemish was a solo second-desk blast from Nationals star Juan Soto on Trevor May in the sixth inning.
“You couldn’t ask for much better,” Showalter said of Megill, who hit 99 mph with his fastball in the first inning. First baseman Pete Alonso added, “It was great that he set the tone on opening night.”
After the final out, the Mets high-fived on the field. After two pandemic-related seasons, a labor dispute between MLB owners and players that nearly jeopardized a full 162-game regular season, a rushed spring training session, and a spate of franchise overhaul activity, the Mets were looking forward to a new hopeful season to start – and with a win.