NEW YORK — The St. Louis Cardinals remained in the wild-card chase until game No. 159 last season. The New York Mets began playing out the string around Memorial Day.
But the sting of missing the playoffs is the same for both clubs, who will look to begin their charge back to the postseason Thursday when the Mets host the Cardinals in Opening Day action at Citi Field.
New York right-hander Noah Syndergaard (1-2, 2.97 ERA in seven starts last year) is scheduled to oppose St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez (12-11, 3.64 ERA in 32 starts) in a battle of young aces.
The Cardinals, who finished 83-79 last season, are looking to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence — their first back-to-back misses since 2007-08, when Tony La Russa was still the manager. St. Louis hasn’t missed the postseason in three straight seasons since 1997-99.
The Cardinals responded to the second straight playoff absence by shaking up the coaching staff. Mike Maddux was hired as pitching coach while franchise icons Jose Oquendo and Willie McGee, who were already working for the organization, were named the third base coach and assistant coach, respectively.
All the activity around manager Mike Matheny gives off the perception that Matheny is on the hot seat entering his seventh season, even though he has directed the Cardinals to a 544-428 record during his tenure. But Matheny said he welcomes the pressure that comes with high expectations.
“It’s a growth mindset,” Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during spring training. “To me, either you’re growing or you’re declining. I don’t think there’s a standstill. I haven’t been doing this that long — I’ve got the throttle down more than anybody on that particular topic. That’s something, I believe, (that) has been part of the long-term culture of the Cardinals, no matter what you’ve accomplished, no matter what you’ve done.”
The pressures are lower on Mets manager Mickey Callaway, who will manage his first game at any professional level Thursday afternoon. Callaway, the former pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians, replaced Terry Collins, who managed a franchise-record seven seasons before he and the club mutually decided to part ways following last year’s 70-92 finish.
But Callaway expects the Mets, who reached the World Series in 2015 and the National League wild-card game in 2016, to contend again this season.
“Every player I talk to, all they want to do is win,” Callaway told reporters during spring training. “They want to go out and do whatever it takes. When you get a group like that, you can do something special. If we don’t do something special, it’s going to be on the leadership of that. That’s going to be on me.”
Any return to contention by the Mets hinges on the health of their starting rotation. The homegrown quintet of Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler combined to make just 86 starts last season, when deGrom was the only member of the rotation to avoid the disabled list.
Syndergaard had a 1.73 ERA and a 30/0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first four starts last year before he tore his right lat muscle April 30. He didn’t return until making a pair of brief “peace of mind” starts in late September, during which he tossed three scoreless innings.
Martinez made his second All-Star team last season, when he was the only National League pitcher with two shutouts and set career highs in strikeouts (217), starts (32) and innings pitched (205).
Syndergaard is 0-2 with a 2.77 ERA in two career starts against the Cardinals. Martinez is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in eight games (five starts) against the Mets.
New York and St. Louis are playing on Opening Day for the eighth time, though this is their first Opening Day meeting since 2007.
Source: Fox Sports