NEW YORK -- The only fans in Citi Field on Friday will be the ones made out of cardboard. Crowd noise will be piped in from a videogame soundtrack. But don’t be fooled. The adrenaline that the Braves and Mets figure to feel when they step between the lines for Opening Day will be every bit as real as it is any other year.
“I still expect jitters,” Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It’s still the beginning of something new and a new season, and a championship season that we’re looking forward to. We all have the same hopes and desires that we’ll be the ones standing at the end as World Series champions.”
The Mets and Braves harbor those hopes fervently more than most, knowing they are two of the best teams in the National League East. Atlanta has an NL East title to defend, after winning 97 games last season. New York has untapped potential to fulfill, given its bullpen overhaul following last year’s second-half surge. Their managers will call on two of the finest starting pitchers in the NL, Mike Soroka and Jacob deGrom, to get things started.
These games count, regardless of what the stands look like. For both teams, the drama begins on Opening Day.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET on Friday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, as well as locally on SNY in the tri-state area and FOX Sports South in Georgia. All feeds will be available on MLB.TV. Radio broadcasts will take place on WCBS 880 in New York and on 680 The Fan in Atlanta.
What are the lineups?
Braves: After spending weeks recovering from COVID-19, Freddie Freeman crammed more than two dozen at-bats into the final stretch of camp upon his return, allowing him to be in his customary No. 3 hole on Opening Day.
A few hours before game time, Atlanta announced that catchers Travis d'Arnaud and Alex Jackson were unavailable, and that the club had recalled catchers Alex Jackson and William Contreras, with Jackson getting the Opening Day start.
Mets: Luis Rojas doesn't have Robinson Canó hitting third, as he did throughout camp, shifting him lower and generating more at-bats for Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Nimmo -- who's leading off on Opening Day.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Braves: When Soroka takes the Citi Field mound, he will become the youngest Opening Day starter in modern Braves history. The previous record belonged to Julio Teheran, who was the youngest Braves Opening Day starter since at least 1904 when he pitched at 23 years and 63 days old in 2014. Soroka will be 22 years and 354 days old on Friday, but he’s well-prepared for the assignment, coming off a year in which he finished third in the NL in ERA.
Mets: Of course, Soroka will oppose the man who finished second in ERA in 2019, as well as first in NL Cy Young Award voting in each of the past two years. Although deGrom battled some mild back tightness midway through Summer Camp, he recovered in time to throw a simulated game and multiple bullpen sessions. The only lingering effect of that injury is that the Mets may limit him to around 85 pitches on Opening Day, rather than the standard 100.
“It’s an honor, it’s awesome to be out there for the first game,” said deGrom, who will carry a 23-inning scoreless streak into the season. “It’s something that means a lot.”
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Braves: Atlanta will be without All-Star Will Smith, who has not been cleared to return since testing positive for COVID-19 on July 3. But the Braves still have a strong experienced group led by closer Mark Melancon and top setup man Shane Greene. Darren O’Day and Chris Martin are also capable of working the eighth. The top left-handed option will be former closer A.J. Minter, who seems to have reclaimed the cutter that led to a high strikeout rate during the final weeks of his 2017 rookie season.
Mets: New York will have its first chance to showcase the club's revamped bullpen once deGrom leaves the game. Team officials have been careful not to name Edwin Díaz the closer, but the expectation is the ninth inning still belongs to him -- for now. To bridge the gap, the Mets will turn to some combination of Dellin Betances, Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia, the latter of whom looked particularly impressive in Summer Camp. A year after ranking 25th in the Majors in relief ERA, the Mets have reason to believe their bullpen will be much, much better.
Any injuries of note?
Braves: Johan Camargo, who had been battling Riley for the third-base job, sustained a right hamstring strain last weekend but is on the Opening Day roster.
Mets: Several. Most notably, Noah Syndergaard will miss the entire season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. His best friend on the team, reliever Robert Gsellman, is also sidelined due to a bout of right triceps tendinitis. Two other relievers, Brad Brach and Jared Hughes, missed all of Summer Camp due to undisclosed reasons; both are on the injured list. Infielder Jed Lowrie is on the IL due to left knee discomfort. He has taken just eight plate appearances since signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Mets two offseasons ago, and he is unlikely to contribute anytime soon. Finally, the Mets placed Marcus Stroman on the IL on Wednesday with a tear in his left calf, and he is "week to week," according to Rojas.
Who is hot and who is not?
Braves: Adams hit a walk-off homer in his first game with Atlanta earlier this week. It’s not as if there’s any ill will between him and the Mets, who simply did not have enough playing time for him. But Adams would sure relish a chance to do some damage against his former team.
Mets: The most impressive at-bats of Summer Camp belonged to a man unlikely to be in the Opening Day lineup: Dominic Smith, who crushed multiple home runs to center field over the final week of games. It will be a challenge for Rojas to find Smith opportunities early in the season, but he enters the year hot as can be. Conforto also turned heads during camp, demonstrating plenty of extra-base pop. On the flip side, Alonso did not go deep in either Spring Training or Summer Camp … though few doubt his ability to turn it on when the games begin counting.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• The Mets have won three straight openers, increasing their league-best winning percentage on Opening Day to .655. If that seems impressive, consider this: The Mets actually dropped the first eight openers in franchise history. They’ve since gone 38-12 (.760) on Opening Day.
• The Braves have won each of the two previous matchups between Soroka and deGrom, with deGrom allowing four earned runs over 13 innings and Soroka surrendering two earned runs over 12 2/3 innings.
• Over the final 60 games of last season, the Mets posted a 39-21 mark to tie for the second-best record in the Majors, behind only the Astros (42-18). The franchise’s best record through 60 games was 44-16 in 1986.