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The Mets and the Nationals are Making April Matter

This point in spring is typically reserved -- and rightly so -- for tempered reactions to early-season trends. But sometimes even spring can produce something of real consequence to the season as a whole. Monday, the Nationals and the Mets will play their first of three games in the teams’ second meeting of the year. With six games already separating the clubs in the standings, the series might be as impactful as three games in April can be.

More unlikely starts for the two teams seem hard to imagine. The expectations for the Mets were low (though, maybe lower than they should have been) coming into Opening Day, and the Nationals were expected to mop up the cesspool of the NL East to come away with their fifth division title in seven years. The first 16 games of a season won’t do much to change those predictions, but while the Mets are shooting upwards, riding a productive offense and strong bullpen, the Nationals are barreling down with multiple mult-game losing streaks. New York, as a result, has improved its playoff odds more than any team in baseball.

It’s fair, though, to note that the Nationals are a victim of small-sample-size antics. By metrics that have already reached stability, like OBP, the Nationals rank third in the league. Though that’s a small part of the picture, the Nationals are not as bad as their outcomes show. But the outcomes are still the outcomes, and the outcomes have put them in a position to go nine games back on the Mets heading into a series with the defending pennant winners (and fellow early-season strugglers), the Dodgers.

However, the Nationals haven’t won a non-Max Scherzer or -Stephen Strasburg start since the third game of the season in Cincinnati. Now the team looks to journeyman Jeremy Hellickson, who had a 5.43 ERA in 2017, to start off the series on the rubber and then hand the ball to the middle and end of the Nationals rotation to do the same. SInce 2016, Hellickson has a 6.73 ERA when facing the Mets, whose offense is hotter now than it was then. Up and down the lineup the Mets are swinging at strikes and getting on base. The Mets will throw Jacob deGrom, who had a 3.53 ERA in 2017 and a 1.93 ERA against the Nationals since 2016.

The season is still just cracking out of its shell. But, looking at a more grand picture, losses in April count as much as losses in September.

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Today on FanGraphs: You Should Know What Matt Chapman’s Been Doing

Unless you don't like 24-year-old players on the Athletics who have always had a good glove but haven't always had much power. Until now, when that 24-year old player started hitting home runs with the top power guys in the league. In that case, you can skip this and carry on, I guess. 


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Excerpt from "Talking Ball: About Davey Johnson" by Bruce Markusen

"Sherman: I’m not sure if “tougher” would be the right word. As their manager, he felt a responsibility to make them the best players they could possibly be "and, since they fell short of that, he somewhat blames himself a bit. But he was like a father to Straw—something Darryl never had growing up. And with Doc, nobody was more shocked by his revelation in the spring of ’87 that he had to go into rehab for drugs than Davey. Gooden had great parents and was always the first to come and the last to leave the ballpark—and had a great attitude."
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