Opposite dugout: Upstart Mets hoping arms lead club to improved campaign

mets-logo-square.jpgManager: Terry Collins, fifth year
2014 record: 79-83
Who to watch (2014 stats): 1B Lucas Duda (.253/.349/.481, 30 HR, 92 RBIs); 2B Daniel Murphy (.289/.332/.403, 37 doubles, 9 HR, 57 RBIs); RHP Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP); RHP Matt Harvey (DNP, Tommy John surgery)
Season series vs. Nats (2014): 4-15, 52 runs scored, 95 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 6: RHP Bartolo Colon vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 4 p.m., MASN
April 8: RHP Jacob deGrom vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 7 p.m., MASN2
April 9: RHP Matt Harvey vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg, 1 p.m., MASN

Series breakdown
The Mets open 2015 as a buzz pick to pose perhaps the greatest threat to the Nationals' division title defense. With that being the case, it's fitting that New York begins the season on its nemesis' turf in D.C.

So why are the Mets considered primed for a leap forward?

Their only significant offseason additions were outfielder Michael Cuddyer and a pair of lefty relievers acquired via trade last week, Alex Torres and former Nats southpaw Jerry Blevins.

So it isn't any headline-grabbing moves fueling that talk, but a rotation that opened eyes a year ago without perhaps its most talented piece. Right-hander Matt Harvey returns to the mound this season after missing all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery, and he has plenty of help on the Mets starting staff.

Even with Zack Wheeler out for the season to recover and rehab from his own Tommy John surgery, New York still possesses an impressive rotation - one that is only rivaled by the Nats' incredible starting five in the National League East.

Right-hander Bartolo Colon starts opening day opposite Nats newcomer Max Scherzer in a meeting of former Cy Young Award winners - although the 41-year-old Colon won his 10 years ago. Colon went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA, leading the Mets in wins last season, overcoming a slow start to pitch to a 3.43 ERA over his last 23 starts.

Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom takes the ball in Game 2 against right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in another must-watch matchup, this time between pitchers who each posted ERAs under 2.70 last season. deGrom, 26, didn't make his major league debut until May 15, 2014, but proceeded to allow three runs or fewer in 19 of 22 starts, going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA overall.

Harvey goes next against right-hander Stephen Strasburg in the most discussed pitching duel of the series. The 26-year-old Harvey will make his first regular season start since Aug. 24, 2013. That year, he was an All-Star and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting after going 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA in 26 starts. The right-hander showed signs he could regain that form with an exceptional spring, pitching to a 1.19 ERA in 22 2/3 innings.

Rounding out the rotation are left-hander Jon Niese and right-hander Dillon Gee. Niese, 28, went 9-11 with a 3.40 ERA last season and is 30-29 with a 3.49 ERA over the last three years. Gee, 28, went 7-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 22 starts last season - one year after pitching to a 3.62 ERA in 32 starts in 2013. Gee held his ERA under 4.00 last season from April 16 until permitting four runs in five innings in his final start.

Without Harvey, the Mets finished with the majors' ninth-best team ERA in 2014 (3.49). So with him, the expectation is that could be even better with no true weakness in the rotation. Couple that with a bullpen that pitched to a 3.14 ERA last year and added much-needed lefty relief last week, and the staff could be a formidable one.

Shifting gears to the lineup, the Mets open the year with all their position players healthy, and Cuddyer marking the only real change. The 36-year-old outfielder is coming off a season where he was limited to 49 games by injuries, but he did post a .955 OPS with 15 doubles, 10 homers and 31 RBIs during that time.

Cuddyer upgrades an offense that ranked eighth in the NL in runs, ninth in homers, 11th in OPS and 13th in average a season ago.

The key bats are back, with Lucas Duda at first base, Daniel Murphy at second, David Wright at third and Curtis Granderson in right.

Duda broke out with career-highs of 27 doubles, 30 homers, and 92 RBIs last season. Murphy had an All-Star campaign, batting .289/.332/.403 with 37 doubles, nine homers and 57 RBIs.

Wright and Granderson are both looking to bounce back from underwhelming seasons. Wright had 30 doubles and 63 RBIs, but his eight homers and .698 OPS were the lowest totals of his career. Granderson finished with 27 doubles, 20 homers, 66 RBIs and a .714 OPS. But it was his lowest homer, RBI and OPS figures in a season he played at least 130 games since 2010.

Much of the lineup's success will hinge on improvement from those two on top of sustained success from Murphy and Duda.

But pitching is what's expected to carry the Mets this season, as they make a run at the Nats and try for their first winning season since 2008.

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