WASHINGTON -- Pitching matchups as prestigious as this one to open a season are rare. Only twice before in Major League history have the top two Cy Young Award vote-getters squared off against one another on the ensuing Opening Day. This year, it happens twice more.
Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner fresh off his newly agreed upon contract extension, will square off with runner-up Max Scherzer, who won the award in 2016 and ’17 and is considered by many to be the game's best pitcher, when the Mets and Nationals open the 2019 season this afternoon at Nationals Park. The American League features a similarly historic matchup as Blake Snell of the Rays opposes Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander of the Astros. Today's games mark just the third and fourth times that the 1-2 finishers in Cy Young voting faced each other on the next Opening Day, and the other two were also in the same year. On Opening Day 1979, the 1978 winner in the AL, Ron Guidry of the Yankees, took on runner-up Mike Caldwell of the Brewers, while the reigning NL Cy Young winner, the Padres' Gaylord Perry, faced off against the Dodgers' Burt Hooton.
Today’s game in D.C. will be the beginning of what should be an entertaining year-long battle for the NL East crown. Both the Mets and Nationals revamped their rosters after missing the postseason a year ago. New York added Robinson Canó, Edwin Diaz, Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos among others, while Washington boasts new additions such as Patrick Corbin, Yan Gomes, Trevor Rosenthal and Brian Dozier. Throw in formidable Braves and Phillies squads and the NL East shapes up to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball.
But success for both New York and Washington starts with their starting rotations, and two pitchers who have made a case to be called the best starters in the NL will duel in what could be a memorable season opener.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
1:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. Mets broadcast: SNY. Nationals broadcast: MASN. Out-of-market fans can also watch the game on MLB.TV.
The starting lineups
Mets: With Todd Frazier still recovering from a left oblique strain, New York's biggest question will be who starts at first: Pete Alonso, whose standout spring included four home runs, or Dominic Smith, who nearly kept pace with him throughout March. Theoretically, the left-handed Smith matches up better against the right-handed Scherzer, but the Mets have indicated this won’t be a straight platoon.
Nationals: Throughout the spring, Nats manager Dave Martinez toyed with whether he wanted to use Adam Eaton or Trea Turner as the primary leadoff hitter. Eventually, Martinez settled on Eaton because of his peskiness at the plate, manifesting itself in extended at-bats and an ability to get on base at a high clip. From there, Martinez gets to fill out what should be one of the MLB’s deepest lineups. Washington wants to use this starting lineup as often as possible, preferring to keep a set order in place.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Mets: deGrom is coming off a career year in which he went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA while compiling a career-high 32 starts, 217 innings and 269 strikeouts. He would have started last year's opener if not for minor back stiffness that pushed back his schedule. Instead, deGrom gets his first Opening Day nod this season, becoming the Mets’ eighth different Opening Day starter in their last nine seasons.
Nationals: Only deGrom stood between Scherzer and a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award, as 2018 was yet another dominant season for the righty who continues to build his Hall of Fame candidacy. Scherzer reached 300 strikeouts for the first time in his career, with 220 2/3 innings and a 2.53 ERA in 33 starts. This will be his fourth Opening Day start in five seasons in D.C.
How will the bullpens line up?
Mets: New York feels it has vastly improved a bullpen that ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA last season. After deGrom exits, the Mets will turn to one of Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Justin Wilson or Luis Avilan, all of whom they feel comfortable using against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. If the Mets have a lead in the eighth, they’ll ask former closer Jeurys Familia to hold it. In the ninth, they’ll turn to new closer Diaz, one of their prized offseason acquisitions. Last year, Diaz was successful in 57 of his 61 save chances.
Nationals: Washington is built on the strength of its starting pitching. Even though the Nats expect their starters to last deep into games, they have confidence in the bullpen they have put together. Sean Doolittle was one of the best closers in baseball last year, while Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough give the Nats two experienced closers in front of him as setup men. The addition of Tony Sipp should help against tough lefties in high-leverage situations. Wander Suero, Matt Grace and Justin Miller give Washington three relievers that can go multiple innings and face either righties or lefties if needed.
Any injuries of note?
Mets: New York will open the year with five players on their injured list: Lowrie, who would have been their starting third baseman; Frazier, who might have started at first; Travis d'Arnaud, their backup catcher who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow; Yoenis Céspedes, who won’t return until at least the second half of the season as he recovers from multiple heel surgeries; and Drew Smith, who also recently underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and is out for the season.
Nationals: Three Nats will start the season on the injured list: Howie Kendrick, whom the team has been especially cautious with as he recovers from a mild left hamstring strain, especially considering he is still coming off surgery on his right Achilles last May; Michael A. Taylor, who sprained his left knee and hip on a dive in the outfield during the spring but has begun light baseball activities; and Koda Glover, who just recently resumed playing catch after a right forearm strain shut him down early in the spring.
Who is hot and who is not?
Mets: Alonso ripped off a seven-game hitting streak late in Grapefruit League play, while Conforto homered in four consecutive games. Then there is deGrom, who struck out 20 batters in 15 innings, posting a 3.00 ERA in those games.
Nationals: A few Nationals had strong springs, including Eaton and his eight extra-base hits and 1.128 OPS; Gomes, who hit four home runs with a .700 slugging percentage; and Scherzer, who struck out 12 in his last Grapefruit League outing and accumulated 34 strikeouts and three walks in 26 2/3 innings this spring.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• Cano will play his first game as a National Leaguer after spending the first 14 years of his career on the Junior Circuit. Earlier this spring, Cano started six consecutive Grapefruit League games to prepare his body for the rigors of playing second base every day, as opposed to taking sporadic breaks as a designated hitter.
• The Mets entered spring with Jeff McNeil ticketed as their everyday left fielder, but injuries to Lowrie and Frazier changed their plans. Instead, McNeil should start at third base for as long as those two are sidelined. As a rookie last year, McNeil hit .329 with an .852 OPS in 63 games, most of them as a second baseman.
• Victor Robles will have his first opportunity to play every day in the Majors, and judging from his performance in the Grapefruit League, he appears ready. In 22 games, he batted .321/.431/.509 with more walks (10) than strikeouts (9), a pair of home runs and seven stolen bases. Before Taylor got injured, the two were competing for playing time, but now this is Robles’ job and his chance to shine.
• New York finished 11-8 against Washington in their 2019 season series.