Mets put Opening Day magic on line

The Mets' Opening Day opponent, newly signed Marlins starter Josh Johnson, can thank the Mets for his four-year deal worth $39 million.

It will be a meeting of immovable statistical forces at Citi Field, with the Mets putting their Opening Day magic up against Johnson's nearly ridiculous level of success against the hosts.

The Mets hold the best mark in the majors on Opening Day, 31-17, which is even more impressive when you factor in that they lost their first eight Opening Day games (their first win came in 1970).

They're even better in instances in which they open the season in New York, winning 17 of the last 19 times they've opened the season there.

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Mets on Opening Day:

• MLB-best 31-17 all-time

• Won 17 of last 19 openers in NY

Most notable win: 1985 -- Gary Carter
wins Mets debut with walk-off HR

The two losses were admittedly rather ugly, a 12-3 pasting of Dwight Gooden by the Pirates in 1990 and a 15-2 shellacking in Tom Glavine's Mets debut in 2003. That brings us to what the Mets face on Opening Day 2010.

Johnson's 7-0 mark against the Mets is the best unbeaten record for any active pitcher against them. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson is one of 13 pitchers to win their first seven decisions against the Mets, an eclectic group which includes Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax, and "who-the-heck-were-theys?" like Randy Tomlin and Wade Blasingame.

The first pitcher to defeat the Mets in a regular-season game, Larry Jackson, beat them 18 times before losing to them, one fewer than Marichal. The most recent pitcher to start 7-0 or better against the Mets before Johnson? None other than ex-Met Pedro Martinez, who won his first 10 decisions against them, including his first big league win.

Most Consecutive Wins vs. Mets

From start of career:

Josh Johnson: 7-0 vs Mets

How has Johnson done it?

From his first start (seven innings of two-hit ball) to his most recent start (a three-run, nine-hit "explosion" over six innings), the biggest key for Johnson was his success against the heart of the Mets lineup. That explains the 2.30 ERA. David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are a combined 5-for-54 against Johnson, with 14 strikeouts.

Beltran got a hit and an RBI against Johnson in his first at-bat against him in 2006. He's 2-for-20 against him since then. It took Wright until the 11th time he faced Johnson to record his first hit against him. His lone RBI against the Marlins ace came with the Mets trailing 8-1 at the time.

Perhaps it's good news for the Mets that neither the switch-hitting Beltran nor rehabbing free agent Delgado will be around Monday. Left-handed Mets hitters have had nearly twice as many at-bats as their right-handed counterparts, but are hitting just .223 while still looking for their first home run through 139 at-bats.

The downhill movement on Johnson's fastball, which he's thrown 68 percent of the time to Mets hitters, via our Inside Edge scouting database, is something that Mets hitters, especially their left-handed bats, have not been able to figure out.

New York, New Yuck

Mets vs. Josh Johnson:

• .248 BA vs. a fastball that averages 94 mph (MLB average BA vs. fastball: .285)

• Left-handed hitters: .223 BA, 0 HR, 139 AB

• David Wright: 3-for-18, 5 K

Inside Edge subjectively tracks "well-hit percentage" -- an estimate of how often a ball is hard-hit against a pitcher. The Mets' percentage against Johnson is 16.2 percent, well shy of the major league's nearly 28 percent against the average pitcher, though basically right in line with the rest of baseball against him.

The lefties have been able to lay off the fastball when it tumbles below the knees (swinging only five times in 96 pitches there), but when it's in the strike zone, they can't touch it. They're 2-for-30 on at-bats ending with fastballs that were in the strike zone, knee-high. That encompasses a 1-for-15 in two-strike situations and 1-for-15 when they're not in that hole.

The Mets' best hitters in this game could be their right-handers; Jason Bay (1-for-3 against Johnson, with a home run) makes his Flushing debut alongside David Wright and Jeff Francoeur. But there's not much to speak of in the way of success here, either.

With one exception, which we'll get to in a moment, most of the Mets' righty hitters have been equally helpless -- flailing away at the slider (another successful pitch for Johnson), succumbing to the knee-high fastball, or chasing either down and away -- once they get into an unfavorable count.

Best Career BA vs. Josh Johnson

And unfavorable counts have been frequently registered against Johnson. More than half of the Mets' outs against him have come while in a two-strike hole.

The Mets do have one weapon they can use against Johnson, and the story of this game may be in how manager Jerry Manuel best puts him to use. Fernando Tatis is 8-for-12 against Johnson, including a robust 7-for-9 showing in 2009 (his teammates combined to hit .221 against Johnson).

Of the 46 major league hitters to face Johnson at least 10 times, there's nobody better than Tatis. Go figure that we'd end up saying that about a Met.

Mark Simon is a researcher for "Baseball Tonight."