9 Things We Learned from the New York Mets' Dominant Opening Day Win
The Mets scratched and clawed for an amazing 13 hits and five walks. Jon Niese was his usual reliable self on the mound. Collin Cowgill, one of the many new Mets, hit a huge grand slam in the seventh inning.
It is still very early in the season, and the Mets' performance against the Padres may not be the same as their performance against World Series contenders.
Nonetheless, here are nine things we learned from the huge Opening Day win:
1. David Wright and Daniel Murphy Are Healthy
Building up to Opening Day, the primary Mets news was the health of David Wright and Daniel Murphy.
Both players were recovering from rib injuries, but both were expected to play this game.
As the game showed, both players already look fully recovered from those injuries.
Wright went 1-for-4 with a walk, a run, an RBI and even two stolen bases. He also played outstanding defense and showed off the range and arm strength that make him a perennial Gold Glove contender.
Murphy went 2-for-5 with a run and RBI. Murphy continues to hold his own at second base, but more importantly, he showed off the quick hips and fluid swing that produces so many line drives.
It is worth noting that Wright did not perform his usual head-first slide on both of his stolen bases. Wright could be trying to put minimal strain on his ribs. This may be nitpicking, but lingering injuries tend to linger a bit longer for a Met and it is something to keep in mind.
The Mets have an outside chance of making a playoff run if they stay healthy, and the return of Wright and Murphy certainly help that cause.
2. Jon Niese Has Not Changed a Bit, and That’s Okay
Jon Niese was outstanding in his first Opening Day start.
He earned the win throwing 6.2 innings with four hits, two earned runs, two walks and four strikeouts in 101 pitches. Niese also managed to go 2-for-2 with a walk and an RBI single to help his cause.
This outing was a classic Niese outing.
He will not dominate anyone but he will not implode either. Niese can be relied on for roughly six innings and 100 pitches every time he steps on the mound. Niese was susceptible to the long ball last season, and he also allowed a solo home run today. But any team will have a tough time beating the Mets if he continues to give up only four hits a game.
Again, Niese was not perfect, but he did more than enough to let the Mets win. Once the Mets got the lead, Niese worked much quicker and became a completely different pitcher.
Do not expect Niese to throw a shutout every outing. But when he does pitch, expect a solid six innings every time.
3. Scott Rice Is a Great Feel-Good Story
Scott Rice, who spent 14 years in the minors, made his first major league appearance in a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the Mets.
When Rice made his professional debut in 1999, Mets captain David Wright was still in grade school.
Rice is a journeyman and was scattered among different leagues and organizations throughout his career. He had a 4.08 ERA in the minors. In 2011, Rice had a 1.95 ERA in Double-A. He was less successful in Triple-A last season, but his K/9 and K/BB ratios remained fairly consistent.
In 11 spring training games this year, Rice had a phenomenal 2.92 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Rice only allowed a respectable 10 hits and three walks, equating to a .244 BAA and 1.05 WHIP.
With Shaun Marcum’s return from a minor neck injury imminent, Rice may unfortunately be the one sent down for Marcum’s roster spot.
For now, though, Rice is a heartwarming story and a player that Mets fans can root for.
4. Terry Collins’ Coaching Is Working
Terry Collins is the last person who will tell you this is a rebuilding year.
He has insisted the Mets can contend, and this year he wants them to be more aggressive baserunners. Already, Collins’ influence has paid off.
In the Opening Day rout, the Mets constantly took the extra base. John Buck, one of the slowest players on the team, set the tone when he hustled and scored from second on a single. David Wright, who stole 15 bases all of last season, stole two bases easily this game. Collin Cowgill, notorious for his aggressive style of play, sped home and scored on a short grounder by Wright early in the game.
That aggression can make or break an inning, but on Opening Day it paid off in every way.
The fiery Collins currently has the Mets playing with a chip on their shoulder. With all of the talk of what the Mets can do in 2014, Collins wants the Mets to surprise everyone in 2013.
Collins himself is in the final year of his contract, so he also has something to fight for.
The Mets played with the confidence and aggression that has been lacking for years. Jon Niese even refused to leave the game and argued with Collins into an extra 0.2 innings of work.
All in all, Collins has done a great job of getting the Mets to buy into his coaching. He has the Mets playing motivated, fundamental baseball.
5. Don’t Worry About Ruben Tejada
After a terrible spring training in 2012, Ruben Tejada had a superb start en route to a breakout season.
After a worse spring training in 2013, Tejada seems primed for the same.
Tejada was abysmal this spring. After hitting a home run in his first at-bat, he finished the spring hitting .096 with five total hits. Tejada hit .065 in the month of March and did not attempt a single stolen base all spring.
Tejada only stole four bases all of 2012. But considering he worked on base stealing with Jose Reyes and vowed to be more aggressive this season, that output this spring is embarrassing.
But Tejada looked sharp and aggressive on Opening Day. He finished 2-for-4 with a double, two runs and an RBI. Tejada only saw 10 pitches all game.
Somehow, Tejada found his groove once last season started, and this season Tejada may just do the same.
6. The Outfield Isn’t That Bad
The outfield was expected to be a huge weakness for the Mets all season.
But the newcomers, Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd, combined for four hits, three runs and six RBI.
Lucas Duda, who was one of two starters without a hit this game, still showed a remarkable amount of discipline, drawing two walks this game. Duda had only four walks in 63 at-bats this spring.
Cowgill and Byrd emerged as viable outfielders offensively, and they have kept up that form coming out of spring training. Meanwhile, Duda has been working on his swing rigorously as he tries to develop consistency.
One game against the Padres will not make a season, but all three players can contribute from a position that was supposed to be a weakness for the Mets.
7. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda Are Works in Progress
Ike Davis’ poor early-season production is well-documented. Lucas Duda, as mentioned earlier, is still working on his swing.
Nevertheless, both players looked bad at the plate, particularly Davis.
Facing almost entirely right-handed pitching, the two left-handed sluggers were the only Met starters without a hit. Duda managed a surprising two walks, but Davis had a golden sombrero with four strikeouts.
Davis’ poor game is even more surprising considering the successful spring he had. Davis hit .327 with only nine strikeouts in 55 at-bats.
There is plenty of time for these two to recover. But if Davis’ and Duda’s struggles continue, then the Mets will have no left-handed power hitters to speak of.
8. The Bullpen Is Improved
After revamping the bullpen this offseason, three newcomers briefly showed off their stuff.
They only pitched 2.1 innings against a lowly Padres team, but the stats are still impressive. Brandon Lyon, Scott Atchison and Scott Rice combined to give up no hits and no walks over that span, with Rice recording two strikeouts in the final inning.
The real test for these relievers will be down the stretch this season. The Mets will likely accrue a number of lingering injuries to the pitching staff and the relievers will need to throw more and more innings.
But while there are plenty more tests to come for this bullpen, the relievers did a superb job this game.
9. They Can Play Scrappy
Until Collin Cowgill’s grand slam blew the game open, the Mets gained a lead simply by stringing together base hits.
Of the 13 hits for the Mets, only three were extra-base hits. Cowgill had two of those extra-base hits, including the grand slam.
Along the lines of Collins’ coaching style, the Mets played fundamental baseball. They grouped together singles and took extra bases when they were available. The Mets do not have the firepower to win a slugfest, but they showed an ability to scrap and fight for runs in any way possible.
When the Mets start playing competition better than the Padres, that trait will come in handy.
Stats via Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com and ESPN.com