(SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Nationals will waste no time debuting prized free agent signing Max Scherzer as he gets the ball on Monday afternoon for the opener of a three-game set with the New York Mets.
Scherzer, a former first-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006, returns to the National League after five seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He won 21 games and captured the American League Cy Young award in 2013, then followed up last season by going 18-5 with a 3.15 earned run average and a career-high 252 strikeouts in 33 games.
The 30-year-old righty cashed in with a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats and will get his first career Opening Day start. Scherzer is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in four games (3 starts) against the Mets.
Scherzer headlines what is perhaps the best rotation in baseball and is one of the reasons the Nationals are a World Series favorite this season. He slots in ahead of a talented group that includes Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez.
"We are all getting 30-plus starts. It's more about what you do about those starts than when you pitch," Scherzer told Washington's official website. "I'm going to attack this National League rather than [worry about] which place I am in the rotation."
Scherzer already appears to be in solid form, giving up only three runs and one walk while striking out 23 over 20 innings of work during spring training.
Washington adds to its star-studded rotation a more than capable lineup, but will have to overcome some early-season injuries. Outfielder Denard Span and third baseman Anthony Rendon, who finished fifth in last season's NL MVP vote, will open the season on the disabled list and outfielder Jayson Werth also won't be ready for opening day.
Span is recovering from abdominal surgery and Rendon suffered a sprained left knee on March 9. Werth had offseason shoulder surgery.
While the Mets aren't on the same hype level as the Nationals, they do enter this season on the upswing thanks to the return of young hurler Matt Harvey, who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, and the presence of reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom in the rotation.
The likes of Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero, all young arms, could join the rotation at some point as well, but that might not be enough to get the Mets into the playoff picture.
New York did lose young hurler Zack Wheeler for all of 2015 due to his own elbow injury and is banking on David Wright bouncing back from a horrid 2014 campaign in which he was slowed by a shoulder injury. The third baseman hit only .269 with eight homers and 63 RBI.
The Mets need Wright to prove himself healthy as the 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer was their lone big free agent addition to the lineup. Cuddyer hit .332 last season with Colorado but in just 49 games due to injury. He hit .331 in 130 games with the Rockies the previous season.
"We have a guy in our organization, and he's back and he's healthy, named Matt Harvey," Mets manager Terry Collins told MLB.com. "The middle of your lineup is going to be the key to any club. David Wright being healthy, he's the key. I think a healthy David Wright's going to play well, and that's why I think this is the year for our team to step up."
While the future is bright for the Mets thanks to their young rotation, it will be 41-year-old Bartolo Colon who starts Opening Day. At 41 years and 317 days old, Colon will be the oldest Opening Day pitcher in Mets team history and the oldest to get the call for the league since Jamie Moyer (43 years, 136 days) and Randy Johnson (42 years, 206 days) back in 2006.
The right-handed Colon did make 31 starts a season ago, his first with the Mets. That was the most for the veteran since he had 33 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2005 and he went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA for New York.
A one-time National, Colon is 2-5 with a 3.45 ERA in seven starts versus the franchise.
The Nationals won 15 of their 19 meetings with the Mets a season ago, going 6-3 at home.