Mets Series Review: Opening Series in Washington
The Mets' first series is in the books, and the positives are easy to be seen as they took three of four in Washington. It is true that the Nationals are going to be among the worst teams in the National League, but the Mets' play and the overall look were beyond the wins and could be the sign that a new day has begun with Buck Showalter. The starting pitching was terrific, especially Chris Bassitt. They had timely hitting showed some toughness and fight; they played with spirit, though the defense could use some work. The Mets have never swept a four-game series to start the season, and starting with four games is tough, but the Mets' first series was nothing but positive.
Opening Day was delayed twice, as the Mets had Tylor Megill starting in place of Jacob deGrom, who will likely not pitch until June with a scapula injury in his shoulder. Megill had pitched well in 18 games as a rookie in 2021. However, on a staff full of veterans and all-stars, Megill was expected to be a long reliever or start the season in Syracuse. With Max Scherzer slated for Friday and Chris Bassitt slotted in on Monday, Megill was the correct choice over a ruin your bullpen game. This decision already showed how more clued in Buck Showalter is as manager. Megill allowed three hits and had six strikeouts to get the win, not allowing a run. Megill even, while going 4-6 last season, could be the type of John Maine type quite but unflashy starting pitcher that championship teams need.
The Mets had a chance to score in the fourth inning, but Pete Alonso was thrown out at home on a close play while trying to score from first with two outs on a double by Eduardo Escobar. The Mets finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth, scoring two runs and two more in the sixth, as the Mets came through with runners in scoring position. Trevor May was shaky in his season debut, giving up a mammoth home run to Juan Soto. The Mets added a run in the seventh as Adam Ottovino, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz did not allow a hit over the final three innings, with the Mets winning 5-1. The stadium was nearly empty in the ninth when Pete Alonso was hit in the face, but fortunately not injured as the Mets improved to 39-13 on Opening Day since 1970.
Game 2 was a bittersweet game for fans in Washington, as Max Scherzer, who was the heart of the Nationals' rotation for seven seasons, made his first start at Nationals Park since being traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline last season. Scherzer was a fan favorite who helped Washington win the 2019 World Series. Scherzer was the Mets' most significant offseason acquisition and was given a video salute on Thursday during the team introductions. He received a loud ovation as he took the mound for the Mets. However, again there was a delay as the lights failed to come on at the start of the game.
On Friday, Max Scherzer did not have his best stuff, as he was hit hard in the second inning. Fourtantley, he kept the ball in the ballpark as the Nats scored their first run on a sac-fly. The Mets answered quickly as Jeff McNeil homered in the following inning. It was the second straight season in which McNeil homered on his birthday. The Mets took the lead in the fourth on a two-run single by Robinson Cano following a ringing double by Eduardo Escobar. The Mets could have had more, but Cano was thrown out at home to end the inning. However, the Nats answered with a two-run bomb by Josh Bell. The home run was the last hit that Scherzer would allow, as his bulldog mentality took over. Scherzer allowed three runs on three hits, over six innings, with six strikeouts.
In the fifth inning, Brandon Nimmo led off the inning with a triple and scored on a double by Starling Marte. Steve Cishek came in to relieve Josiah Gray and hit Francisco Lindor in the face. Sick of seeing his players hit, Buck Showalter came out of the dugout and got into a shouting match with Cishek leading to the benches emptying. Lindor was okay but left the game as Cishek and former Mets third base coach Gary DiSarcina were ejected. Scherzer pitched angry after the fray as he got stronger in the later innings; the Mets got two runs in the sixth as Marte had a three-RBI game.
The Mets again got strong relief as a brief rain shower interrupted the game in the ninth inning. The stands were empty when the weather cleared; just a few hundred Mets fans remained, singing Happy Birthday to Jeff McNeil. McNeil drove in a run as the Mets stretched the lead to 7-3, with Sean Reid-Foley closing out the game.
Saturday night was chilly in Washington as Chris Bassitt made his Mets' debut. Bassitt was filthy, allowing three hits while striking out eight in six innings. The game was scoreless until the fifth inning when Pete Alonso hit his first career grand slam to give the Mets the lead. The Alonso grand slam was all the scoring the Mets needed as three Mets relievers allowed just one hit over the final three innings. Joely Rodriguez, acquired from the Yankees in the last week of spring training, was especially impressive, striking out two of the four batters he faced. The Mets would add one more run in the ninth as Brandon Nimmo scored on a wild pitch.
Looking for the sweep, the Mets had Carlos Carrasco on the mound on Sunday. He gave up a home run to Nelson Cruz and a hit to Josh Bell but was outstanding the rest of the game, retiring the next 13 batters before exiting the game in the sixth. Carrasco was in line to win the game as the Mets scored a pair of runs in the fourth, ith a Francisco Lindor home run and Mark Canha RBI single. Canha was especially impressive this weekend with seven hits in ten at-bats.
With Edwin Diaz on bereavement leave, the Mets had to restructure their bullpen, as Sean Doolittle and the Nats' relievers kept the Mets' bats at bay over the final five innings. Needing to restructure the pen, Buck Showalter tried to stretch Chasen Shreve to one more batter. He gave up a leadoff hit to Yadiel Hernandez. Instead of calling on Trevor May, Showalter called upon Trevor Williams to make his season debut. Dee Strange-Gordon was the pinch-runner, as Makiel Franco got his first hit as starting hitless in ten at-bats. Strange-Gordon scored on a safety squeeze by Lucius Fox to tie the game. On the play, Pete Alonso hesitated and threw it home poorly. After a poor bunt attempt by Victor Robles, the Mets had a chance to get out of the inning, but Alonso had another poor throw, allowing Washington to load the bases. He was able to make up for it with a perfect throw home on a grounder by Juan Soto. However, Nelson Cruz drove in two-unearned runs on a single as the Nats won the game 4-2.
The Mets have a different look and feel this season. Last year even while spending most of the first half in first place, they never passed the eye test. They had a feeble feel to them, as every win felt like a death struggle as wins brought relief, not joy. This year, the Mets played well in the first series and had a chance to sweep if they had made a play or two. The Nationals may not be the best test for the Mets, but winning three of four is always good. Once the season gets going, this type of play is what you will need to get into the postseason, which is the goal, especially for a team with a strong pitching staff that could make a deep postseason run.
Stay tuned for a blog of Washington's site and a review of Nationals Park in the coming days. These Mets series reviews will be a regular part of my Mets coverage.