Mets, Nationals bring new looks into opening matchup

The New York Mets and Washington Nationals are scheduled to begin the 2021 season the same way they ended the 2020 campaign, opposing each other.

It's just a question now of when that will happen.

Thursday's season opener at Nationals Park in Washington was called off after a member of the Nationals tested positive for COVID-19. Four teammates and a staff member also were sidelined as close contacts as contact tracing is done.

Friday was a scheduled off day and will remain such, and the series is expected to resume Saturday. That could change, however, pending further testing.

Once the season starts, the Mets and Nationals will look far different and hold far higher expectations than they did six months ago.

New York and Washington closed out the abbreviated 2020 season at Nationals Park during the final weekend of September, when the Nationals ended the Mets' flickering playoff hopes by winning the final three games of the four-game series. The series result left the two teams tied for last place in the NL East at 26-34.

Neither team waited long to begin an offseason overhaul. The Nationals, who were 27-33 through 60 games in 2019 before winning the first World Series in franchise history, added three-time World Series champion Jon Lester to the rotation, signed Kyle Schwarber to play left field and acquired Josh Bell and Brad Hand to fill vacancies at first base and closer, respectively.

The Nationals are also hoping to get a full season out of Stephen Strasburg, who was limited to just two starts last season due to carpal tunnel syndrome, while getting standard seasons from young stars Juan Soto and Trea Turner. Washington hopes to make the playoffs for the sixth time in 10 years.

"Everybody's excited, can't wait for (Opening Day) to happen," said Max Scherzer, who was the scheduled Opening Day starter. "You finally hit the regular season, you finally get going again."

Of the nine players in the Mets' lineup for the season finale, six are no longer with the team. The rapid overhaul began following the biggest change on Nov. 6, when the long-awaited sale from the Wilpon family to billionaire Steve Cohen was completed.

Under team president Sandy Alderson, who spent seven-plus seasons last decade as general manager and oversaw New York's most recent playoff team in 2016, the Mets re-signed No. 2 starter Marcus Stroman, signed catcher James McCann and reliever Trevor May, and acquired pitcher Carlos Carrasco and star shortstop Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians in a blockbuster.

Lindor, who was scheduled to hit free agency after the season, had established an Opening Day deadline for contract negotiations. The two sides reportedly agreed to a 10-year, $341 million extension on Wednesday night.

"I really had a good look at (the lineup for) my last (spring training start) against the Nationals and from top to bottom thinking, if I was facing our lineup, that's a tough lineup," said Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, who was set to oppose Scherzer in the opener. "We had a great group of guys, but the additions we made are definitely exciting. Looking forward to getting this thing started."

deGrom, who won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019 before finishing third in the balloting last season, is 8-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 20 starts against the Nationals.

Scherzer, who won the AL Cy Young with the Detroit Tigers in 2013 before preceding deGrom with consecutive NL Cy Youngs in 2016-17, is 12-5 with a 2.70 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) against the Mets. He no-hit the Mets on Oct. 3, 2015, when he struck out 17 and came within a Yunel Escobar throwing error of a perfect game in Washington's 2-0 win.

--Field Level Media