The Washington Nationals (1-2) head north to Citi Field to take on the New York Mets (1-2) in a three game series. While both clubs enter Friday's matchup with a 1-2 record, the Nationals enter the contest with a one-game winning streak where the Mets try to end a two game skid.
For two teams that ended 2009 on a disappointing note, a strong start is unquestionably important. The Mets have failed to make the playoffs for three straight seasons, despite the benefit of a well put together roster. It is important for them to take control of this series to avoid the negativity that has doomed them in past seasons. The Nationals on the other hand have had several bad starts in a row and can't afford to let a newfound optimism in Washington slip away with a poor early season performance.
Both teams will have their limitations entering this early series. The Mets are missing star centerfielder Carlos Beltran and will be without the services of their starting shortstop Jose Reyes for at least the first game. The Nationals on the other hand hope to have a back of the rotation featuring Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Detwiler by the end of the season. However they will be forced to face a strong Mets team in this series with Livan Hernandez and Garret Mock starting in two games.
METS LAST SERIES
The Mets won the first game of their opening series against the Florida Marlins before dropping the last two. The three games saw a Mets 7-1 blowout on opening day, a 6-7 extra-inning heartbreaker, and 1-3 defeat. Despite the two losses the Mets have to be pleased with the performances of their starting pitching, an area of their team that had been a question mark entering 2010. Santana only allowed one earned run in six innings while Niese allowed three in six and Maine allowed four.
The Mets sole victory saw everything click on full-cylinder for the boys from queens. Star third baseman David Wright hit a homer in his first at-bat after suffering a confusing power drought last season, helping assure Mets fans that hopefully that was a thing of the past. New free-agent acquisition Jason Bay went 2-4 with a run, and even Gary Matthews Jr. , who many considered a mistake to acquire, went 2-3 with a double and two runs on the day.
Who's Hot: Jeff Francour - 4/10, 2 2B, 3 RBI
Who's Not: Luis Castillo - 1/10, 1 R
Mike Pelfrey (0-0 -.-ERA) vs. Garret Mock (0-0, -.-ERA)
Oliver Perez (0-0, -.-ERA) vs. John Lannan (0-1, 12.27 ERA)
Johan Santana (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Livan Hernandez (0-0, -.-ERA)
AVOID TOUGH SITUATIONS
The biggest difference between the Mets blowout win and their two close losses was the performance of their two biggest hitters, Jason Bay and David Wright (as seen above). In the win the two combined to go 3-7 with a homer, a triple, two RBI and a run. Quite simply, the Nationals have to force the other Mets to beat them, and without Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy and with a recuperating Jose Reyes, that shouldn't be that difficult of a task.
The Mets are stuck with the likes of Alex Cora, Luis Castillo, Mike Jacobs, Gary Matthews and Rod Barajas to fill out their line up. Those should be manageable batters even for the back of the Nationals rotation. Quite simply, the Nationals need to not put themselves in situations where they are forced to pitch to Bay and Wright, and take down the lesser threats in the line up.
REYES TO RETURN
Once considered the future of the franchise, super athletic, and super fast shortstop Jose Reyes was limited to only 36 games played last season due to injuries. A mysterious thyroid condition left Reyes out of the line-up for most of spring training and as a result he has been rehabilitating in extended camp.
When healthy Reyes is one of the most valuable players in the big leagues, posting a WAR of five or greater for three straight seasons from 2006-2008. Reyes unique combination of speed, bat control, and above average defense make him a force to be reckoned with in the National League East.
Reyes is scheduled to make his return to the Mets Saturday and is likely to start the game at shortstop. If he truly is healthy he could be a headache for a Nationals team that alternates between an inexperienced shortstop and one with no arm, and a pitching staff that has a history of grooving fastballs.