We're less than a month away from the sun of Florida, the start of Spring Training and all that it entails. The big news over the holiday weekend was the Nationals agreeing to terms Max Scherzer on a seven-year deal, and much of your Twitter chatter has understandably revolved around him. In this week's Inbox, we take a look at Scherzer and the Nats, as well as an analysis of Jacob deGrom -- plus a look at who could follow in his footsteps.
Why should we not expect a sophomore slump from deGrom?
-- Bryan S., Middle Island, N.Y.
It sort of depends on your definition of slump. Is it reasonable to expect deGrom to produce a 2.69 ERA over a full season? Probably not. But as long as deGrom stays healthy -- fair or not, that's always going to be a caveat given his slight build -- there's no reason to think he's due for a cliff dive.
Though deGrom seemingly came out of nowhere last year, his numbers were legit. None of his peripherals suggest he was particularly lucky or undeserving of his statistics. To the contrary, deGrom demonstrated improvement over the course of the summer, particularly in his ability to generate swings and misses.
Pitchers with deGrom's velocity who whiff lots of batters, don't walk many and allow few home runs tend to succeed over the long run. It's reasonable to expect him to strike out fewer opponents this year and allow more homers, considering his Minor League track record. But that won't transform deGrom back into a pumpkin. Realistically, he will settle in behind Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler as a legitimate arm at the front of the rotation.
Even with the addition of Scherzer, the Mets' record against the Nationals can't get any worse. Or can it?
-- Kris, Baldwin, N.Y.
Nice silver lining there, Kris. And yet this is a serious issue for the Mets, who went 4-15 against the Nationals last season and 75-68 against everyone else. Was it dumb luck? Or was it a legitimate matchup problem that the Mets are going to need to iron out before they face the Nats on Opening Day?
General manager Sandy Alderson seemed to hint at the latter theory when addressing the situation last September, noting that the Nationals "have a quality player at virtually every position," with an "excellent rotation" and a "great bullpen." Now the Nats possess Scherzer as well, dampening any advantage that the Mets might have had with pitching matchups. Harvey, Wheeler and deGrom may be a standout top three, but so is Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.
Because baseball is baseball, the Mets will probably do better than 4-15 against the Nationals this year. But most pundits expect Washington to blowtorch the rest of the National League East, and for good reason. Consider the numbers behind the Mets' struggles against the Nats:
• David Wright has struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances against Strasburg and Zimmermann. That's 63 percent higher than his career whiff rate.
• Last season, Lucas Duda hit zero of his career-high 30 homers against Washington. He holds a career .250 on-base percentage at Nationals Park.
• Over the past three seasons, four of Bobby Parnell's 10 blown saves have come against the Nationals. (That's 40 percent of his blown saves in 11 percent of his total games.)
• Over the past three seasons, the Mets are a combined 15-41 (.268) against Washington.
And so on and so forth. If we know anything about baseball, it's that past performance cannot reliably predict future success. But if the Mets want to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, they'll need to figure out some way to win in Washington. They don't have to beat the Nats outright; a Wild Card berth is fine. But they do have to beat them some of the time.
Who has the potential to be this year's deGrom for the Mets?
-- Matt, New York
It's an interesting question, but not something that's realistic to expect from any member of the pitching staff. The Mets won't have the rotation opportunities available that they did last year, when they fully expected to dip into their farm system early and often. And this year's top candidates for promotion -- Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Steven Matz -- are all more noteworthy prospects than deGrom was a year ago.
Thinking outside the box, how about a hitter? How about Matt Reynolds, who hit .343 across two levels last season but remains an afterthought on the national prospect radar? If Wilmer Flores struggles and Reynolds continues to rake at Triple-A Las Vegas, it's reasonable to think he could make a significant impact on the Mets' season.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.