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NL East team preview: Will Mets' offseason headlines change on-field results?

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NL East team preview: Will Mets' offseason headlines change on-field results?

This is the third of a weeklong look around the National League East, baseball’s most competitive division, to assess who the Nationals are dealing with. Today, the New York Mets:

New York Mets

2018 record: 77-85

Overview: The Mets were not afraid of offseason splashes. A gigantic trade brought Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to town. Wilson Ramos was hired to do the catching. Jed Lowrie signed to move around the infield. Former-agent-turned-GM Brodie Van Wagenen aggressively roared through his first winter in charge.

“I think that there's an energy in the air at this point with everything that Brodie is doing,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said at the Winter Meetings. “He's tirelessly working to get us the best baseball team we can possibly get. I have no doubt that Sandy [Alderson] tirelessly worked to do the same thing. They probably did it in a little bit of a different way. As far as I am concerned, I'm going to have a relationship that is one where we can both say what we feel to each other and try to improve the Mets in every way.”

Already hanging over the Mets are injury issues. Lowrie (strained knee) and Todd Frazier (strained oblique) are unlikely to be ready for Opening Day when New York plays in Nationals Park. Noah Syndergaard echos Stephen Strasburg with top-shelf potential annually slowed by injuries. Starting pitchers Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler were both hurt in 2017 before turning in full seasons in 2018. 

If healthy, always the question for the Mets’ rotation, the top four can compete with the Nationals and others. Veteran left-hander Jason Vargas is the fifth starter. For now.

Looming for the Mets is Yoenis Cespedes. New York hopes Cespedes can return this season following surgery on both heels. They owe the 33-year-old $29 million this season and $29.5 million in 2020. 

The early injuries have caused Callaway to mix-and-match in spring. Signing Cano initially pushed Jeff McNeil to the outfield. He’s worked lately at third base since an opening currently exists. Rookie Pete Alonso, a top-50 prospect, appears to be working his way into first base to start the season. 

At the least, New York has repopulated with big names over the winter. It now needs the season to see if roster splashes produce wins.

Projected lineup (2018 WAR):

Brandon Nimmo (LF, 4.4)

Jeff McNeil (3B, 2.4)

Robinson Cano (2B, 3.2)

Wilson Ramos (C, 2.7)

Michael Conforto (RF, 2.9)

Pete Alonso (1B, N/A)

Amed Rosario (SS, 0.6)

Juan Lagares (CF, 1.0)

Projected rotation (2018 WAR):

Jacob deGrom (10.0)

Noah Syndergaard (4.0)

Zack Wheeler (4.2)

Steven Matz (1.7)

Jason Vargas (-0.3)

Projected bullpen keys (2018 WAR):

Edwin Diaz (3.2)

Jeurys Familia (1.5)

Seth Lugo (2.1)

Robert Gsellman (-0.3)

NL ranks last season:

HR: 10th

OPS: 12th

Starter ERA: 4th

Reliever ERA: 14th

Fangraphs 2019 win projection: 84

Other NL East Team Previews:

- Philadelphia Phillies

- Atlanta Braves

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Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

HOUSTON -- Houston’s scramble started Sunday, not long after Jose Altuve sent it back to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Clearing the haze from a postgame celebration came first. Next was a crash course in what the Astros were about to tangle with: the Nationals’ starting pitchers.

Any argument suggesting the Nationals have a chance in the 115th World Series centers on their rotation. If those pitchers can obtain 21 -- or more -- outs, Washington will have a solid chance. Staying away from the center of the bullpen remains paramount. Managing pitch counts to last as long as possible is crucial. It’s so important, Max Scherzer is throwing softer in the first inning simply to manage his in-game workload. 

Houston knows this. The Nationals know this. Somehow, Washington has survived to this point with the worst regular-season bullpen in postseason history. The starters have relieved in order to stay away from hole on the team. Tanner Rainey is now the third option out of the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is next. They back up Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. That’s the end of Davey Martinez’s trustworthy pitcher list.

The challenge for Houston is learning as much as possible about Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez in a short period. The Astros’ analytics department is touted as one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. There’s no information shortage. But there is a real-life experience gap.

Outfielder Michael Brantley faced Scherzer and Sánchez often when all three played in the American League Central Division. However, that was more than five years ago. Both Scherzer and Sánchez are different now.

“You can’t take too much information from something that was a few years ago,” Brantley said. “They’re great pitchers in their own right. They’re still evolving and making adjustments. We’ll watch video, we’ll study them, we’ll look at some video from the previous years, got to have a different gameplan going against them because they’re going to make adjustments just like I need to make adjustments.”

Houston’s World Series roster has faced Scherzer 92 times, Sánchez 83 times, Corbin 43 times and Strasburg just 27 times. Brantley owns more than half of those at-bats. Charts and information from the team will operate as the baseline for information. Players will also use their own preferred process to figure out Washington’s strength.

MVP-candidate Alex Bregman watched every postseason game the Nationals played. He paid particular attention to sequencing against players he felt are similar to him (he wouldn’t specify beyond middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bats).

He watched more video Sunday, then more Monday. He also grabbed his cell phone, because being in the box is so much different than watching a monitor.

“You can also call around the league and ask what other guys have seen and what they felt in the box, what they thought went wrong for them or what went right for them -- kind of pick their brain like that,” Bregman said.

Players use this tactic through the regular and postseason. As much as baseball has shifted to mathematical equations to expose tendencies and obtain advantage, players still prefer to hear from others performing the same job. 

Bregman wants to hear about sequencing and how pitches acted when coming toward a batter. Brantley is focused on tendencies against left-handed hitters, He wants to discover patterns in video from a most-recent start, as well as earlier in the year, noting an uptick in slider usage by Scherzer against left-handed hitters. He synthesizes the data next.

“I want all the information I can, and I’ll break it down to what I actually want to apply,” Brantley said. “I don’t need all the information, but I do need a lot of it to come up with my gameplan and what I want to do.”

Unlike Bregman, and many others, he will not call other players. 

“Because I want to see it through my own eyes and I want to trust my ability once I get to the plate and not have too many thought processes,” Brantley said. “Just want to be prepared.”

General philosophies apply, too. George Springer is more concerned about adjusting to what happens in real-time, or “on the fly” as he put it.

“In order to be successful, you have to understand what happened to you in that at-bat, whether it’s bad or good,” Springer said. “The good news is, you see the ball, you see what they may be doing. You know how hard they’re throwing. I know that these guys are that don’t necessarily throw their hardest in the first inning. They’re throwing 94, 95, which is still fast. By the eighth, they’re still throwing 99. You just understand kind of what the ball is going to be doing, then you have to adjust from there.”

Is he excited to face them?

“I wouldn’t say ‘excited’ is the right word to face a guy like Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg,” Springer said with a smile. “It’s a fight. It’s a grind.”

Houston’s first chance is Tuesday night against Scherzer. Strasburg follows. Corbin or Sánchez is next.

“It definitely is an advantage to have faced people before,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “But with the guys that team has, I’m not going to discount them at all. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a pretty good plan. But, yeah, I think if you’ve seen Max or Stras a hundred times or zero times, it’s not going to be fun.”

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Nationals make pitching tweaks to 25-man World Series roster

Nationals make pitching tweaks to 25-man World Series roster

HOUSTON -- The Nationals hope to never use the pitchers added to their World Series roster.

Joe Ross and Wander Suero were put on the 25-man roster, replacing Austin Voth and left-hander Roenis Elías from the National League Championship Series. Neither are expected to play a significant roll in the series.

Ross bounced between the bullpen and starting this season, as well as between the minor and major leagues. Suero led the Nationals in appearances, but was left off the NLCS rosters after allowing a home run in his only NLDS appearance. The team's trust in him is very low.

Otherwise, the roster is as expected.

Pitchers (11)
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin
Aníbal Sánchez
Joe Ross
Javy Guerra
Fernando Rodney
Wander SueroTanner Rainey
Sean Doolittle
Daniel Hudson

Infielders (7)
Ryan Zimmerman
Howie Kendrick
Trea Turner
Anthony Rendon
Matt Adams
Asdrúbal Cabrera
Brian Dozier

Outfielders (5)
Adam Eaton
Victor Robles
Juan Soto
Gerardo Parra
Michael A. Taylor

Catchers (2)
Yan Gomes
Kurt Suzuki

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