Was Mets-Nationals showdown a peek at Rookie of the Year race?

Was Mets-Nationals showdown a peek at Rookie of the Year race?

The Mets-Nationals series began with Jacob deGrom versus Max Scherzer. It fulfilled the hype, two aces at the peak of their craft dominating Opening Day. But after three games, I wonder if what we will remember most about this series is the onset of Pete Alonso versus Victor Robles.

Overemphasizing the final days of March is April Foolish. We have a snapshot. At best, the first weekend is an amuse-bouche, exciting us for the full meal to come. It stimulates curiosity, provides the first real clues to the season. It piques interest of potential storylines.

So what went on my menu after Weekend 1?

The NL Rookie of the Year race.

Alonso and Robles went mano a mano — or should that be kiddo a kiddo? The most heralded NL rookie, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr., was outshined by teammate Chris Paddack, yet Paddack was not the best rookie starter over the weekend, Miami’s Sandy Alcantara was. Alex Verdugo was part of the Dodgers’ offensive orgy, but the only rookie with two homers in the first series was Arizona’s Christian Walker, who has previously played in parts of four seasons, is 28 and is not even a starter.

Alonso went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Scherzer and followed by going 6-for-9 with three doubles and three walks. The Mets said he was ready and did not hold him back to manipulate service time, and Alonso honored that by hitting the ball hard — he had the highest exit velocity in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games and smashed four balls at least 104 mph. He also handled himself defensively better than advertised.

The presence of Robles to join last season’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, Juan Soto, in the Nationals’ outfield made Bryce Harper’s exit less onerous. Soto is 20, Robles does not turn 22 until next month. Robles took Noah Syndergaard deep in the middle game and had three doubles. Robles’ Nationals next face Harper’s Phillies in the series of the week beginning Tuesday in DC.

Alonso moved on to face the Marlins, but the Mets will miss Alcantara. To date, the Marlins have not had much to show for the trades of star outfielders Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and, especially, NL MVP Christian Yelich. Alcantara was the big arm at the center of the Ozuna deal, and in spring training the sense I got from scouts was that the Marlins were rushing him to the opening rotation to attempt to prove they did get quality in those deals.

But on Sunday against the Rockies, Alcantara had polish, using a full arsenal (not just his high-end fastball) and dominating the strike zone with no walks and just 92 pitches needed to record eight shutout innings. The Marlins are hoping big-arm youngsters such as Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Jose Urena can begin leading them toward a better day. Imagine if they also had Paddack? Well, really, they should have Paddack.

Padres GM A.J. Preller has rightfully been praised for heisting Tatis from the White Sox for the faded James Shields. But he also turned the final few months before free agency of Fernando Rodney into Paddack in 2016, when the Marlins futilely tried to make the playoffs in the waning day of Jeffrey Loria’s ownership.

Like Tatis, Paddack was not held back this year for service-time manipulation. San Diego, with Manny Machado signed for $300 million, is trying to win now. That is why Tatis is at shortstop at 20 with just 57 games above A-ball. And it is why Paddack is in the rotation. The Padres faced a soft opening touch in the offensively inept Giants, who managed just five runs in losing three of four. But Paddack’s precocious fastball/changeup combo has the potential to play against any opponent.

San Diego has opportunity in the NL West, with the Giants more in rebuild and the Diamondbacks having moved on from Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt. To replace Goldschmidt, Arizona moved lefty-swinging Jake Lamb from third to first. Walker will serve as his righty complement — or perhaps more if he keeps producing (4-for-7 with a double and two homers).

But leading my list of other items that piqued my early interest was the homers hit by Walker’s opponent and those hit by someone who shares his first name:

– Are we sure the Yankees are breaking the homer record? The Yanks set the mark last year at 267. But the Dodgers finished second at 235. Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are gone. But Corey Seager is back. Pollock was added. Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson might be poised for big damage, combining for seven of the 14 homers in four games against the Diamondbacks.

– Is the NL MVP better? Yelich won the award by rallying the Brewers to an NL Central title by hitting .373 in his final 40 games with 18 homers and a 1.314 OPS. This season, he became the sixth player to ever homer in each of the first four games of the season — and he ended the finale against the Cardinals with a two-run, walk-off double against a 102 mph fastball from Jordan Hicks. Yelich was 6-for-12 with six walks.

– Will Toronto be the July clearinghouse for starting pitchers? That was what one scout thought possible when speaking late in spring training, since the Blue Jays are still trying to accumulate talent for a sustained run. Then Toronto opened the season with 24 scoreless innings from its rotation, the most since the Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine/John Smoltz/Steve Avery Braves authored 25 to start the 1994 campaign. The final five by the Blue Jays came via Trent Thornton in his major league debut. But the first 18 were from Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez (both two years from free agency) and veteran Matt Shoemaker on a one-year deal. It was against the woeful Tigers, but starter-hungry teams will focus here to see more.

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