Pirates vs. Mets: It Begins

06.06.16 Posted by

Niese vs. Matz, 4:05 PM
Nicasio vs. deGrom, 7:05 PM

Tonight’s game is the beginning of The Gauntlet, a ridiculous stretch of games in terms of travel plans, the lack of off days, and the relentless quality of competition. We gets the Mets first, which isn’t too bad, because it looks like they’re about as good as we are: they have an identical +25 run differential.

The big story is the return of Neil Walker. Walker was a very well-liked player here, but came up big in postseason play and, far more importantly, kinda trashed the team after being traded simply because they didn’t want to give him a huge contract post-30 after
a 50% drop in WAR (and his second consecutive season with a lower WAR than the season before). There’s talk about whether or not he should be booed for cheered, which I don’t care a lot about. If I were at tonight’s game, I’d probably settle for a small, polite cheer.

Walker gave writers in New York and Pittsburgh a lot of editorial fodder by responding to the trade with nine home runs and a .962 OPS in his first season with the Mets, with the obvious angle being that he had a chip on his shoulder. But if so, the revengedrenaline (a word I just made up) seems to have worn off: his OPS in May was .753, twenty points below his career average.

The angle people aren’t talking about quite as much is that the man Walker was traded for, Jon Niese, starts tonight. So it’s not just Walker going against his old team (and his hometown team), and it’s not just Niese going against his old team: it’s two players in a straight-up, one-on-one Challenge Trade, going against each other). Niese’s performance has mirrored (in the sense of being reversed, that is) Walker’s: he struggled out of the gate, but he’s put together give good starts in a row, and has a 2.25 over his last four outings. His HR/FB rate is over 20%, and it’s easy to imagine that a dip there ends with him being a useful, sub-4.00 ERA guy in the middle of the rotation the rest of the way.

Niese has to throw against Steven Matz, a groundball specialist the same way Niese is, except he’s walking more than a better fewer per nine, and striking out nearly a batter an inning. His strand rate is a bit too high, but he’s pretty darn good.

First pitch is at 7:05 PM.

UPDATE: last night’s game was postponed, so the Bucs and Mets are playing a doubleheader today at 4:05 and 7:05 PM, respectively. The first game features the same pitching matchup as last night: Niese and Matz. The second game will be Nicasio and deGrom, it appears. This is a significant change, because Nicasio was going to have his start skipped in favor of Liriano, but the rain out gives them no choice but to toss him out there again, despite recent struggles.

Filed under: game preview, Jonathan Niese, Juan Nicasio, revengedrenaline