Opening Day FAQ: Mets vs. Nationals

April 7th, 2022

The buildup to Opening Day 2022 has been filled with unknowns and down-to-the-wire decisions for the Mets and Nationals ahead of their NL East showdown on Thursday, which was moved to 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park due to inclement weather. How healthy will the Mets’ rotation be, both short- and long-term? Who will round out the Nationals’ 28-man roster amid injuries? These are just some of the significant questions that loomed leading to the beginning of the regular season.

So here’s what is known: The Nationals are entering the first full season of the franchise’s new chapter since they overhauled the roster at last year’s Trade Deadline. With Max Scherzer and other veterans now playing elsewhere, 23-year-old MVP candidate Juan Soto is the centerpiece of a team that is bookended by developing, young prospects and experienced leaders. This is expected to be a season of getting healthy, establishing chemistry, ushering in a new wave of talent and building a foundation for years ahead.

The 2022 Mets have huge expectations following a winter in which they committed more than a quarter billion dollars of Steve Cohen’s money to Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and Adam Ottavino, while also trading for All-Star pitcher Chris Bassitt. They are very much in win-now mode and believe this is their time in the NL East.

However, things started going very wrong very fast in the final week of camp. First it was Jacob deGrom, who was set to pitch his fourth consecutive Opening Day until he suffered a stress reaction in the scapula of his right shoulder. He’s likely going to miss two months, putting a huge dent in the Mets’ division title aspirations. The next day, Scherzer was scratched from his final spring start due to a tweaked right hamstring. He’s tentatively lined up to pitch Game 2 of the series on Friday. All of that aside, the Mets are still confident that they have a solid pitching staff with Scherzer and Bassitt leading the way, and that their lineup can be one of the better ones in the NL.

When is the game and how can I watch it?
Nationals TV:
MASN, with Bob Carpenter, Kevin Frandsen and Dan Kolko
Nationals Radio: 106.7 The Fan, with Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler
Mets TV: SNY, with Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling on the call
Mets Radio: WCBS 880 with Howie Rose (returning to the booth for his first regular-season game since taking a medical leave of absence last August) and Wayne Randazzo on the call

The starting lineups
Washington boosted the top half of its batting order with veteran additions to hit around Juan Soto. The Nationals are looking for a pop from second baseman César Hernández, who has a .349 career on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. They are bumping Soto up from third to second, where they noted recent MVP Award winners have hit, to get him more at-bats. Soto will be protected in the order by veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, followed by Josh Bell and Keibert Ruiz, who both bring power to the plate.

Starting lineup
1. César Hernández, 2B
2. Juan Soto, RF
3. Nelson Cruz, DH
4. Josh Bell, 1B
5. Keibert Ruiz, C
6. Lane Thomas, LF
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Alcides Escobar, SS
9. Victor Robles, CF

Mets: The Mets won’t feature a typical lineup on Opening Day due to the presence of Nationals starter Patrick Corbin, a lefty who’s particularly susceptible to right-handed hitters. Most notably, J.D. Davis earned a start based on his career numbers against Corbin: 10-for-29 with four homers and three doubles. Highlighted by Davis and Pete Alonso, the Mets stacked their lineup with potent right-handed hitters to make things difficult for Corbin. Brandon Nimmo, who missed the final two games of Spring Training due to neck stiffness, was on the Opening Day roster but not in the lineup, moving Mark Canha center and putting Jeff McNeil in left.

Starting lineup
1. , RF
2. J.D. Davis, DH
3. , SS
4. , 1B
5. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
6. Robinson Canó, 2B
7. , CF
8. Jeff McNeil, LF
9. James McCann, C

Who are the starting pitchers?
 gets the nod for his second career Opening Day start (previously in 2018 with the D-backs). The southpaw struggled last season, accumulating a league-high 5.82 ERA in 31 starts. But after improving his fastball command and focusing on not overthrowing, he feels confident the recent past is behind him and he can return to ‘19 form when he helped the Nationals win the World Series.

Mets: It will be Tylor Megill for the Mets following injuries to deGrom and Scherzer. (The former is out for around two months, while the latter is expected to pitch Game 2 of the season.) Megill acquitted himself well in Spring Training, firing 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play. He’s started just 18 games in the big leagues so far, but two of those came against the Nationals. (He was 1-1 in those outings with a 4.91 ERA.) Although Megill is stretched out to around 85 pitches, the Mets won’t likely ask him for more than five innings since their bullpen is fully rested and loaded.

How might the bullpens line up after the starters?
The bullpen is one area of the roster the Nationals still were sorting out late in camp. Given that the starting rotation is shorthanded by injuries and many starters did not go deep into games last season, Martinez mulled between carrying 10 and 11 relievers on the expanded 28-man roster. , , Andres Machado and are candidates to stretch multiple frames. On the back end, returning fan favorite and Kyle Finnegan can set up likely closer in late innings.

Mets: No one will be off-limits on Opening Day as the Mets attack the Nationals with a barrage of high-velocity arms. In a perfect world, the Mets will rely on , Trevor May and  to build a bridge to Edwin Díaz, who will pitch the ninth inning with a lead. Although Díaz still hasn’t fully overcome the reputation hit he took due to a poor 2019 Mets debut, he’s been generally solid the past two seasons, with a 2.95 ERA and 38 saves in 48 chances. If the Mets need a bulk reliever, Trevor Williams is the most likely person to fill that role.

Any injuries of note?
The starting rotation begins the season down two starters, as right-handers Stephen Strasburg (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) and Joe Ross (right elbow bone spur surgery) remain in West Palm Beach, Fla., to continue their rehabs with no timetables for their returns. Late-inning reliever Will Harris (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) and third baseman Carter Kieboom (right forearm flexor mass/ulnar collateral ligament strain) also are recovering at the Nationals’ training complex. The recent injury of utility infielder Ehire Adrianza (left quad strain) created a vacancy in key backup roles the Nationals have to fill.

Mets: deGrom will miss all of April and possibly all of May to a stress reaction in the scapula of his right shoulder. Nimmo is also day to day due to neck stiffness. Lefty starter Joey Lucchesi is recovering from Tommy John surgery and due back in August or September. Fifth starter Taijuan Walker tweaked his surgically repaired right knee late in camp, but he should be able to make his first start next week in Philadelphia. Finally, reliever Jake Reed is still recovering from an oblique strain that sidelined him early in camp. deGrom, Lucchesi and Reed will all begin the season on the injured list.

Who’s hot and who’s not?
After working on his timing, Juan Soto belted two homers and hit above .300 in camp. 23-year-old Keibert Ruiz made a statement at the plate on Sunday with four hits, three runs, one homer and three RBIs in five at-bats. Utility player Dee Strange-Gordon made a strong case for his return to the Majors by playing infield and outfield while leading the team in hits. On the mound, Patrick Corbin struck out 10 and did not allow an earned run in nine innings.

Mets: Who isn’t hot? Lindor hit four home runs over his first six Grapefruit League games, including shots from both sides of the plate on March 27. While Lindor cooled a bit as camp drew to a close, the Mets are expecting a huge bounce-back season from him. Escobar also impressed throughout his first spring with the Mets, clubbing three homers in his first eight games. Dominic Smith batted over .400 with plenty of power for much of the Grapefruit League season, as did backup catcher Tomás Nido. Those two will both be available off the bench on Opening Day.

Less striking was Alonso, who hit only one homer in spring, and Nimmo, who batted .192 before suffering his neck injury. Carlos Carrasco also struggled a bit on the mound in his first action since offseason elbow surgery, proving susceptible to home runs both in Grapefruit League play and on the backfields. But Carrasco has often preceded solid seasons with less-than-stellar springs.

Anything else fans might want to know?
• Showalter will return to the dugout for the first time since 2018. This will be his 21st season as a Major League manager, including stops with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Orioles. He is the 24th manager in Mets history, and their fifth in the last six seasons.

• This matchup includes plenty of sluggers, including two ranked in the top five for career home runs among all active players: Nelson Cruz (No. 3, 449 homers) and Robinson Canó (No. 5, 334 homers).

• Assuming Nimmo is healthy enough to play, Marte will start in right field for the first time in his professional career. The Mets used Marte in right throughout Spring Training because they value his arm strength and believe Nimmo’s defensive improvements in center are real.