Season Opener Preview — New York Mets vs. Florida Marlins


Baseball is finally here again for the New York Mets. The first series of the season will kick off in Florida against the scrappy Florida Marlins, who always find a way to win (or at the very least, play spoiler). It might not be as heated a series as, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, but with Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Javier Vazquez in tow, the Marlins are serious players.

GAME 1: 4/1/2011 (7:10 PM)
-New York Mets @ Florida Marlins
-Mike Pelfrey vs. Josh Johnson

For better or worse, Mike Pelfrey is the Mets “ace” to start the season. Big Pelf showed signs of brilliance in 2010 (see: March/April, August, and September/October), but also looked extremely hittable at times too (see: May, June, and July). Despite the two ends of the extremes, Pelfrey pitched an overall solid 3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 15 Wins, and 1.66 K/BB ratio in 204 IP.

Josh Johnson, on the other hand, is a legitimate ace pitcher. As if his league-leading 2.30 ERA in 2010 wasn’t enough, he also posted a 1.10 WHIP, 11 Wins, and a 3.88 K/BB ratio. Assuming Johnson can stay healthy, continue to expect big things in 2011.

GAME 2: 4/2/2011 (7:10 PM)
-New York Mets @ Florida Marlins
-Jon Niese vs. Ricky Nolasco

Jon Niese had a very “nice” rookie season in 2010, posting a 4.20 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 9 Wins, and 2.39 K/BB ratio in 173.6 IP. However, it was pretty evident that the young lefty had durability issues in the second half of the season (first half: 3.61 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 2.61 K/BB ratio vs. second half: 4.82 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 2.21 K/BB ratio). But now with a year in the bigs under his belt, Niese will hopefully be prepared for the long season ahead.

Ricky Nolasco, who’s had his own fair share of growing pains, is looking to solidify himself as the top shelf starter the Marlins think he’s capable of becoming. In 2010, the righty hurler posted a 4.51 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 14 Wins, and 4.45 K/BB ratio in 157.6 IP. Even though Nolasco tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in late August, all signs point to a healthy season in 2011.

GAME 3: 4/3/2011 (1:10 PM)
-New York Mets @ Florida Marlins
-R.A. Dickey vs. Javier Vazquez

One of the greatest stories of 2010 was how R.A. Dickey, a 35 year-old cast-off pitcher, was able to hone his newly-found knuckleball, and enjoy, by far, the best season in his career. The veteran posted a superb 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11 Wins, and 2.48 K/BB ratio in 174.3 IP. Folks might want to scream “fluke,” but knuckleballs don’t lie.

The Marlins are the third NL East team for Javier Vazquez (first the Expos, then the Braves, and now the Marlins), but judging by his past experiences, he should fair well. The second time around with the New York Yankees was not a good fit (as expected), posting a 5.32 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 10 Wins, and 1.86 K/BB ratio, but Vazquez and the Marlins hope he’ll find his 2009 self (2.87 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 15 Wins, and 5.41 K/BB ratio).

The Batter’s Box
Considering the recent injury to Jason Bay, fans should expect some creative lineup cards. The likes of Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, and Lucas Duda will assume Bay’s at-bats in left-field, with left-handed hitting Harris or Duda most likely getting the nod for the starter, and right-handed hitting Hairston possibly seeing time here and there.

Versus RHP:
SS Jose Reyes
LF Willie Harris/Lucas Duda (would probably swap places with Pagan in the lineup)
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran
CF Angel Pagan
1B Ike Davis
2B Brad Emaus
C Josh Thole

Versus LHP:
SS Jose Reyes
CF Angel Pagan
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Ike Davis
LF Scott Hairston
2B Brad Emaus
C Josh Thole

Questions for the Rival
Michael Jong, the lead blogger at Marlin Maniac, took some time to answer some questions about the upcoming series (you’ll soon be able to check out my answers to his questions there too).

(1) How do you think the Marlins will address their third base situation over the course of the year?
For now, it looks like Donnie Murphy will be the team’s stopgap at the position. He can hold the fort down for the team in 2011, but neither he nor Emilio Bonifacio have a long-term future as a Marlins third baseman. The ideal situation would be for Matt Dominguez to dominate at the plate in Triple-A and earn a midseason callup like Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton did last year, but it seems unlikely given the difference in development between Dominguez and the two better hitting prospects.

(2) Leo Nunez lost his closer job towards the end of last season–do you think he’ll still be the go-to option in 2011?
Clay Hensley should get the job if Nunez cannot be trusted, but there is no reason to believe either player is better than the other. Nunez was actually very good last year, with an improved strikeout rate and an emerging strong change-up to complement a good fastball. The problem was that he was a bit unlucky in the clutch and it made his “closer” numbers (i.e. saves) look bad. He should be the man to pitch the ninth for the Fish all season this year if he can maintain the improvement from last season.

(3) Who do you think will be a pleasant surprise for the Marlins this season?
Mike Stanton is as good as a lot of people have been clamoring about, and if there was one guy whom I suspect would take a leap this season, it would be him. He outperformed his true talent last season, but maybe this season he makes all the right adjustments and blasts 40 home runs to top off an incredible sophomore campaign. It’s a (somewhat realistic) dream that I’d like to think could happen in 2011.

Final Notes
Regardless of the series’ outcome, take comfort in the fact that baseball is back, and that Gary, Keith, and Ronny will join you for the roller-coaster.

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