Sandy Alderson, the general manager, stated the obvious, that Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom match up well against any other top two starters.
“The key for us will be 3-4-5 — and 6 and 7,” Alderson said. “Bullpen-wise, I think we’re improved, we’re deeper, and I like our offense. We’ve got some veteran players who are going to have to perform at their previous levels, but generally speaking I think our lineup is a lot deeper.”
Alderson could have stopped there, yet he added an ominous but honest bit of math.
“We have to improve by 20 games,” he said, “but I think we’re capable of doing that.”
Credit Kathy Willens/Associated Press
A 20-game improvement would give the Mets 90 victories, matching their total from 2015, the last time they reached the World Series. To get back, or at least have a chance, they need dominance like Syndergaard’s on Thursday, when he fanned 10 in six innings without giving up a walk. But that’s a given.
More encouraging, perhaps, was Robert Gsellman — best known as a pitch-to-contact starter — striking out the side in the seventh, followed by crisp innings from Swarzak and Jeurys Familia. In Callaway’s last job, as the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians, he oversaw a staff with two aces and a lot of power relievers. It worked very well.
On Thursday, the Mets’ offense was just as impressive. No N.L. team hit more home runs than the Mets last season, but 10 teams reached base more often. This time, the Mets won easily without going deep at all. The Cardinals used six pitchers, and the Mets greeted each by getting on base. They chased Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals’ All-Star right-hander, with a procession of disciplined at-bats.
“That’s going be with any pitcher, but especially with Martinez, he pitches off emotion a little bit, and it’s something that our team really has to focus on,” said Brandon Nimmo, the leadoff man, who was hit by a pitch, walked and singled twice. “We’re looking to drive the ball and pass the baton along, so we’ve got to get him in the zone. If we’re swinging at pitches out of the zone — and this is for everybody — we’re in trouble.”
The age in the Mets’ offense could hurt them as the season goes on. But Thursday’s lineup included three players who were making their first opening day starts: Nimmo, catcher Kevin Plawecki and shortstop Amed Rosario, who batted ninth, behind Syndergaard and ahead of Nimmo and Yoenis Cespedes. Rosario and Cespedes both had two singles, driving in a total of five runs.
Cespedes had hit second before, but Rosario did not bat ninth in his two-month trial as a rookie last season. Callaway likes the arrangement.
“The main thing is we want Cespedes to take as many at-bats as possible this year; I can’t guarantee he’s always going to hit second, but it worked out,” Callaway said. “And as far as Rosario goes, I think it takes the pressure off him to hit behind the pitcher. He gets to relax, and he gets to do some damage, too.”
Before they get too excited, it’s worth noting that the Mets usually start with a flourish. The last 25 times they have opened the season in Flushing, they’ve gone 22-3. Their overall winning percentage on opening day (.649) is the best in the majors.
This was another joyous baseball holiday, but it was tinged with sadness after the news about Staub, an All-Star, a humanitarian and a restaurateur. The broadcaster Ron Darling, another former teammate, would not be celebrating victory the way he once did.
“Potato skins and ribs at Rusty’s on 73rd and 3rd — after, it seemed like, each and every ballgame,” Darling said, motioning to Hernandez nearby. “Pure baseball, beautiful innocence. Miss those days.”