The heart of every Major League Baseball game are those individual battles that take place 60 feet, 6 inches apart, at least a couple hundred times every night. Here are 10 of the most intriguing matchups to pay attention to, when you definitely won't be flipping the channel.
1. Bryce Harper versus Mets rotation
Harper destroyed his NL East opponents last season on his way to the MVP Award ... except the Mets, that is. Against the hapless Braves, Marlins and Phillies he hit .344 with 21 home runs in 54 games. Against the Mets he hit .254 with four home runs in 18 games, with one of those home runs coming in the meaningless season-ending series between the clubs. The matchup to watch: Harper is 0-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his career against Matt Harvey. He's fared better against Jacob deGrom (7-for-18, .389, 1 HR) and Noah Syndergaard (3-for-9, .333). Harper didn't exactly struggle against high-octane fastballs in 2015 -- he hit .310/.479/.507 against fastballs of 95-plus mph -- but he crushed mediocre heat, hitting .395/.521/.882 against 94 or less. Expect the Mets' three to challenge him with hard stuff inside.
Trout's been in the league just four full seasons but these two have already faced each other 72 times as Hernandez has started 21 times against the Angels the past four seasons. So far it's been all Trout: .354/.389/.646 with four home runs in 65 at-bats. Take out Trout's 1-for-7 back in his initial call-up in 2011 when he struggled and the average goes up to .379. Trout homered twice off Hernandez in 2015, including a memorable eight-pitch battle in their first matchup of the season.
The NL version of Trout versus Hernandez except this one has been in favor of the pitcher. Posey has faced Kershaw 79 times but is hitting just .224/.253/.329 against him, with two home runs and 16 strikeouts. But Posey had a little more success in 2016, going 6-for-16, including this home run in April.
Or, really, Greinke versus all the Dodgers. But this is the individual battle most intriguing, as Greinke and Puig didn't exactly come off as best buddies in Molly Knight's book "The Best Team Money Can Buy." Greinke's hit 14 batters the past three seasons, so he'll back them off the plate every now and then.
Cabrera has become the master craftsman at the plate, winning his fourth batting title in five seasons with a .338 mark in 2015. His power has diminished the past two seasons due to injuries but maybe a healthy Cabrera gets back to being that 40-homer threat. Sale is coming off an incredible 274 strikeouts in just 208 innings. So far, their history has been one of Sale mostly pitching very carefully to Cabrera, who is hitting .242/.405/.424 against Sale with two home runs but nine walks in 42 plate appearances. Maybe Sale is aware of what Cabrera has done against another ace from the AL Central: Miggy is hitting .571 with five home runs in 34 at-bats against Corey Kluber.
6. Blue Jays sluggers versus Yankees relievers
There should be many intense late-game moments when the Blue Jays go up against the vaunted bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. For the record, here's how Toronto's big bashers fared against fastballs of 95-plus in 2015:
Good luck trying to slip a fastball past Donaldson or Bautista if you're behind in the count. Those ranked fourth and second in the majors in wOBA against pitches of 95-plus (Kansas City's Eric Hosmer ranked first and Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers was third).
7. Cardinals hitters versus Jake Arrieta
It's possible the four or five games that Arrieta starts against the Cardinals could be the decisive factor in the NL Central. For the Cubs, maybe Joe Maddon even ranges his rotation to get Arrieta six starts against St. Louis. In eight starts over the past two seasons, Arrieta has 1.86 ERA against the Cardinals and they've hit .208 against him. However, he's also averaged just six innings a start and didn't pitch more than seven in his four starts against them in 2015. Key matchups: Matt Carpenter is 1-for-19 against him (although with five walks) and Matt Holliday is 2-for-17.
Goldschmidt owned Tim Lincecum -- .536, seven home runs in 28 at-bats -- but he's also fared pretty well against Bumgarner, the pitcher he's faced most often in his career. He's hitting .316/.426/.579 against him with two home runs and as many walks as strikeouts, including a 7-for-13 mark with three extra-base hits in 2015. This three-run blast in April broke a 1-1 tie.
Power against power with two of the game's emerging stars. They squared off 14 times in Bryant's rookie season and battled to a draw: Bryant went 3-for-11 with three walks but six of his eight outs were strikeouts. Cole's upper 90s heat won't intimidate Bryant, who hit .317/.404/.585 against 95-plus fastballs -- and was especially effective against inside fastballs. Cole throws slider, curve and changeup along with his four-seamer and two-seamer. Expect a lot of sliders against Bryant, his biggest weakness was covering the outer part of the plate. He hit .250 with a 42 percent strikeout rate against sliders.
10. David Ortiz versus all comers
Big Papi's career winds down in 2016 so let's enjoy all of his at-bats. He faced Roy Halladay the most often in his career and hit .273 with six home runs -- the most he's hit against any pitcher. Five pitchers he's faced are already in the Hall of Fame (Randy Johnson owned him but he did homer once each off Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz). He went 4-for-8 against Seth McClung -- all four hits were home runs. Mike Mussina struck him out the most times, 27 times in 83 plate appearances (Ortiz hit .243 with four home runs off him). He's hit just .154 with one home run 52 at-bats against Bartolo Colon. The Red Sox and Mets don't play each other so it's likely those numbers hold.
NEW YORK -- Even with a payroll currently flirting with $140 million, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson insisted Wednesday the club has capacity to up the figure at the trade deadline if warranted.
“I think it depends on how well we play and whether it makes sense,” Alderson said.
Payroll has been a sore subject for the Mets in recent years. It dipped to as low as the mid-$80 million range early in Alderson’s tenure.
“You mean is $140 [million] the new $85 [million]?” Alderson joked. “Look, we could be somewhat below $140 [million] going into the regular season. There are a couple of marginal situations on our roster where things could change a little bit. I don’t think we’re going to be as mindful of the ‘140’ number as most of you in the media. But, in a sense, in terms of order of magnitude, and assuming we continue to play well, we don’t anticipate it going back to those prior levels.
“One of the things we did early on was clear some contracts,” the GM continued, referring to the early stages of his tenure. “But also we spent a lot of time evaluating the players we had in the system, and trying players that were in the system. Maybe they’d work out, maybe they wouldn’t. And we also recognized at some point we were going to have to outperform the payroll to get people back in the ballpark. That, I think, finally happened. Nothing is complete unless you win the World Series, and we didn’t do that. But we’re happy that the franchise is reasonably healthy and that we’re able to make some of these moves that we haven’t been able to make for a few years.”
Of course, some day, the Mets are going to have to spend big in order to hold onto their young starting pitchers. Among them, only Matt Harvey has reached arbitration eligibility so far. He is due to make $4.325 million in 2016. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler all are due to make close to the major-league minimum.
“I think you always are making choices,” Alderson said. “Even if the payroll were to go up, you’re still going to have to make choices. It’s nice that we have some of those choices to make, and we certainly want to be in a position to keep some or all of those pitchers. I don’t mean to say we’re not going to keep them all. I’d love to keep them all. We just have to make sure we’re providing for that as we go forward.”
Can the Mets afford all five pitchers down the road?
“Is it realistic? I think it could happen,” Alderson said. “It’s a lot of money and you might have to look at other aspects of your roster. And that’s, of course, where the farm system comes into play as well. I don’t want to foreclose any possibility. Sometimes we have a habit -- we do in an organization, and fans as well -- of thinking about the guys we have now, but thinking more about when we’re going to lose them than enjoying the moment. And that moment hopefully lasts two, three, four, five years. But I think maybe if the [Yoenis] Cespedes signing says anything, it’s that there are no possibilities that will be dismissed out of hand strictly for financial reasons.”
NEW YORK -- In his first public comments since agreeing to a three-year, $75 million contract with the New York Mets that includes an opt-out after the first season, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes said his enjoyable experience in Queens in 2015 played a large role in him re-signing with the organization.
"It’s not always about the amount of money being offered," Cespedes said through an interpreter on Wednesday at Citi Field. "It’s about being in a place that you want to play in, that you’re happy in. That’s just what happened in this case.”
Of course, money had to be a factor in the decision. Cespedes will earn $27.5 million this upcoming season. He then could opt out for a far richer contract than the five-year offers he had on the table elsewhere this winter.
“I’m very happy to be putting on my Mets jersey again," Cespedes said. "I know that this team has everything it needs to continue on with what we started last year. ... I can say that from my first day when I came last season, that very first day, the fans just showed incredible support. My teammates were so welcoming, as well as the full Mets organization. From there, I just knew that I wanted to come back.”
So is a trade late in spring training involving De Aza conceivable? Yes it is, according to general manager Sandy Alderson.
“We’re not pursuing any of that at the moment,” Alderson said. “It’s conceivable.”
De Aza is due to earn $5.75 million this season.
Alderson appeared to hint on Wednesday that De Aza's contract potentially could be moved before Opening Day while the general manager was addressing whether the Mets’ payroll would remain at its current level, near $140 million.
“Look, we could be somewhat below $140 [million] going into the regular season,” Alderson said. “There are a couple of marginal situations on our roster where things could change a little bit. I don’t think we’re going to be as mindful of the '140' number as most of you in the media.”
Absent a trade involving an outfielder, how much playing time could Lagares and De Aza possibly get?
“We’ll have to see,” Alderson said. “Juan definitely has a role for us, probably off the bench -- maybe against left-handed pitching primarily. Certainly his defense will get him into most games. De Aza’s situation is a little less clear, but we’re happy to have another left-handed hitter that hits well against right-handed pitching, and we’ll figure it out. The important thing is not to view this as a bunch of regulars and a bench. It’s really about the full complement of players and making sure they all can make a contribution, and giving them enough playing time so that’s realistic to expect.”
NEW YORK -- Fifteen months is now the New York Mets' standard rehab time for a starting pitcher after undergoing Tommy John surgery. So team officials have informed right-hander Zack Wheeler that the club is now targeting July 1 for his first major league action since the elbow procedure.
Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery on March 25, 2015.
He is rehabbing at the Mets’ complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Wheeler initially expected to begin throwing off a mound in January, but the Mets slowed him down.
“It could accelerate a little bit, but we feel real comfortable with that. And I know he does as well,” general manager Sandy Alderson said about the July 1 target date. “He felt that he could have come back sooner than that, but we backed him off. So he really hasn’t thrown off a mound. He hasn’t thrown off a slope. We just said, ‘Let’s cool it.’”
The deliberate pace with Wheeler is in large part a product of the success of Matt Harvey's return from Tommy John surgery after a 15-month rehab process.
“After talking with the doctors, and in light of our experience with Matt Harvey, we just felt that 15 months -- thereabouts -- was more appropriate for a return than 12,” Alderson said. “Zack will have the benefit of a shorter season. So it’s not as if we’re looking for him to perform at Matt’s level, or at the amount of innings he pitched. I think, right now, we and doctors -- and not just our doctors, but doctors generally -- are looking for starting pitchers that a little longer recovery is more appropriate than the previous 12 months or so.”
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets should have an extra starting pitcher when Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery during the summer. But even before Wheeler is back, the organization plans to strategically use a sixth starter to keep their staff fresh, general manager Sandy Alderson said Wednesday.
Alderson said spot starters will be used even during the first half of the season. Sean Gilmartin or Logan Verrett, depending on who makes the Opening Day roster, could be used in that capacity during the season's early months.
That does not mean Mets pitchers have innings restrictions comparable to previous years. In fact, even 2016 rookie Steven Matz logged 155T innings last season, with the minors and postseason included. So he should be able to reach close to 200 innings.
NEW YORK -- New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson did not attend the winter meetings in December because he was beginning chemotherapy for an undisclosed cancer.
Alderson, who looked healthy during a public appearance Wednesday, indicated that he expects to regularly be in Port St. Lucie, Florida, during spring training rather than in New York for further treatment.
"There may be a couple of days I have to come back to New York, but other than that I expect to be down there," Alderson said.
Mets pitchers and catchers are due to report on Feb. 17. Those players will undergo physicals on Feb. 18, with the first workout for pitchers and catchers on Feb. 19.
Mets position players report on Feb. 24. Their physicals are the following day, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 26.
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have a good problem: two capable young catchers. And that means both likely will be exposed to other positions, at least on a limited basis, during spring training, according to general manager Sandy Alderson.
Alderson said Kevin Plawecki “definitely” should get exposed to first base in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Asked what positions Travis d'Arnaud might see action at beyond first base, and whether he may be more suited for the infield or outfield, Alderson joked: “We’ll find out. He thinks he’s a shortstop.”
Plawecki actually has played 20 minor-league games at first base, including 18 starts.
Except for two games at first base in 2012 with Las Vegas, d'Arnaud only has appeared at catcher during his professional career, which began when he was drafted in 2007 out of high school in Lakewood, California.
“I can see d'Arnaud playing one or two other positions,” Alderson said, referring to spots beyond first base. “If you look at the team that we had pre-[Yoenis] Cespedes' return, it was predicated on depth and flexibility -- matchups, taking advantage of strengths, minimizing weaknesses. So using those two catchers in a couple of other positions potentially would fit into that scheme.”
NEW YORK -- Closer Jeurys Familia's arbitration hearing has been scheduled for mid-February in Florida.
Familia is the lone arbitration-eligible New York Mets player yet to settle on a 2016 contract. He requested $4.8 million, with the Mets countering at $3.3 million.
The sides still have a couple of weeks to settle before heading before the arbitrator.
Familia stepped into the closer's role in 2015 and performed superbly. He went 2-2 with a 1.85 ERA and recorded 43 saves in 48 chances during the regular season. Familia had no blown saves in the regular season after July 30, although he failed to hold a lead three times during the World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets will honor their 1986 team on May 28 as part of a weekend of festivities marking the 30th anniversary of the organization's last championship.
The celebration will last the entire year, though. That includes the Mets wearing the distinctive 1986 uniform multiple times during the season as an alternate uniform.
The '86 uniforms included a vertical blue stripe sandwiched between two orange stripes down the sides of the jersey and pants.
As for the May 28 celebration, manager Davey Johnson, the coaches and players all have been invited back for a 6:30 p.m. ET ceremony before the Memorial Day weekend game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets also will have a pair of weekend giveaways as part of a three-day celebration. Fans attending the May 27 game will receive an '86-themed T-shirt. And the first 15,000 fans attending the May 29 game will receive an '86 championship replica ring. That game will begin at 8:08 p.m. ET and be televised as part of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
NEW YORK -- New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson’s winter shopping appears over, at least in terms of handing out major league deals.
Translation: Reliever Tyler Clippard as well as other free agents are unlikely to be signed by the team.
“I’d say right now we’re probably done with major league contracts,” Alderson said Wednesday.
Alderson offered multiple reasons for not wanting to hand out any more major league deals. First of all, any time a player is signed to such a contract, someone must be removed from the 40-man roster. The most recent additions -- Antonio Bastardo and Yoenis Cespedes -- cost the Mets Carlos Torres and Darrell Ceciliani. Torres cleared waivers but declared free agency. Ceciliani was designated for assignment, then traded to the Blue Jays for cash.
“We just lost Ceciliani because we had to make a roster spot. We’re at the point now where we have to balance what we might lose player-wise on the 40-man with what we might gain,” Alderson said.
Alderson added that the remaining free agents may not necessarily be more attractive than what the Mets already possess.
“Giving a major league contract, you lose some flexibility -- the ability to move people in and out,” he said. “You almost make a commitment that I’m not sure we’re prepared to make right now with what’s on the market.”
As for Yoenis Cespedes, Alderson added: "Right now I'm not counting on him playing any right field."
Conforto has played left field exclusively during his professional career. At Oregon State, he played right field seven times as a freshman in 2012. He also appeared once at third base, during his junior year in 2014. De Aza has appeared in 74 games (52 starts) in right field during his eight-year major league career.
"It's possible you'll see Conforto over there in spring training a couple of times," Alderson said. "We'll just have to see how it shakes out. De Aza could be over there."
Alderson said Cespedes may end up following the same playing pattern he did last year after joining the Mets -- starting in center field against right-handed pitching, and starting in left field against left-handed pitching (with Juan Lagares in center field).
"We had a conversation prior to reaching agreement to confirm that he was willing to play center field again," Alderson said. "We were able to confirm that."
Cespedes played center field in Cuba, so he is familiar with that position. Alderson figures Cespedes' fielding in center will be improved compared with the final two months of 2015 because Cespedes will now have a full spring training to get further reacquainted.
"He came in cold during the season last year and played center field," Alderson said. "He's going to have a whole spring training. He's played out there before but hadn't recently when we acquired him. So I think there's every chance he'll be somewhat better defensively this year than he was last year."
On Conforto playing against at least some left-handed pitching, Alderson added: "I would foresee that. I think it's a little premature to say, 'Well, Conforto is going to play every day.' He's going to have to earn that right."
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have traded outfield prospect Darrell Ceciliani to the Toronto Blue Jays for cash. Ceciliani had been designated for assignment to clear the 40-man roster spot for the return of Yoenis Cespedes.
Ceciliani, 25, hit .206 (14-for-68) with one homer and three RBIs in the majors last season. He had five steals and struck out 25 times.
A lefty-hitting outfielder, Ceciliani was drafted in the fourth round in 2009 out of Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington.
The New York Mets have added catcher Raywilly Gomez on a minor league contract and invited him to big league camp for spring training.
Gomez, 26, will join Nevin Ashley, Xorge Carrillo and Johnny Monell as non-roster catchers in major league camp.
Gomez hit .291 with one homer and 20 RBIs in 244 at-bats with Double-A Arkansas, a Los Angeles Angels affiliate, in 2015.
Gomez originally signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 as an undrafted free agent.
He also has seen minor league action at third base and second base during his career.