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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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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

The Nationals face the Rockies at Coors Field for the first half of this work week. Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Can the Nationals stay above .500? Stephen Strasburg’s impressive start along with Ryan Zimmerman’s two homers and two RBI kept Washington from being swept by the lowly Marlins.

  2. Who will produce with Anthony Rendon out? While the Nats 3B was sidelined with an elbow injury after being hit by a pitch in Saturday’s outing against the Marlins, Howie Kendrick started in his place. Kendrick went 1-for-3 vs Miami with one RBI and one strikeout. In terms of replacing Rendon’s hitting prowess, Victor Robles has started a streak of his own. The youngster is hot on a seven game hit streak, including a bunt over the infield Sunday.

  3. Will the Nationals ever sure up their end game? Yesterday’s ninth inning was on the brink of disaster. Kyle Barraclough allowed back-to-back walks, then Sean Doolittle loaded the bases. Luckily for the Nats, crisis averted.

Download the MyTeams app (https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/myteams-nbc-sports ) for even more Nationals content, and check out the latest episode of the Racing Presidents podcast below.

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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