June 21, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals catcher Jesus Flores (26) doubles in the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Nationals Park. The Nationals defeated the Rays 5 - 2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: New York Mets @ Washington Nationals

The Mets limp into the Washington D.C. after getting swept by the Braves, and now have to take on the NL East-leading Nationals. This is the third time these two teams will be going head-to-head in 2012, with Davey Johnson’s club besting the Amazins twice, taking two of three both at Citi Field and at Nationals Park. David Wright and company look to get back on track during an important stretch of games to keep themselves in the playoff discussion as the trade deadline nears.

How they’re performing:

Dating back to before the All-Star break, the Mets have lost four games in a row and are 3-7 in their last ten games. Sitting currently at 46-43 on the season, they are in third place in the NL East and need to win this series to prevent the Nationals from distancing themselves even further in the division. David Wright struggled while at Turner Field, as did Daniel Murphy, Josh Thole, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and most of the Mets’ position players, except for Ruben Tejada. The starting pitching also struggled, as Johan Santana, Chris Young, and R.A. Dickey weren’t able to get past the fifth inning, exposing the weakness of the bullpen, with Miguel Batista and Bobby Parnellboth looking a little rusty after their time off.

July 13, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) hits an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

The Nationals continue to lead the National League East, even after splitting a four-game set with the Miami Marlins. At 51-36, they hold the best record in the NL, as well as a two-game lead over the Braves, who are sitting in second place. Ryan Zimmerman and company are happy to get back home, where they are 24-16 this season. Even though Danny Espinosa (.237 BA) and Zimmerman (.258 BA) aren’t having particularly great offensive seasons, Michael Morse, Bryce Harper, and Ian Desmond have been leading the way. Desmond actually leads the team in home runs (17) and his 52 RBI is only one behind Adam LaRoche for the club lead. Everyone is talking about the great pitching staff of the Nationals, led by Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, but it’s their bullpen that has been carrying them. Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard, and Sean Burnett all have a sub-2.00 ERA with 30 or more appearances in 2012.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Jonathon Niese (7-4, 3.73 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.43 ERA)

Niese is hoping that his second half gets off to a better start than the end of his first half, as he’s making his first appearance since giving up 7 runs to the Cubs. Before that, the Mets’ lefty had won three starts in a row and had given up only 4 runs in 21.1 innings. He’s coming off his best month of the year in June, where he compiled a 3-1 record, 1.89 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP. Despite pitching very well in his last 10 starts (3.15 ERA in 34.1 IP), Ross Detwiler hasn’t won a decision since he won against the Mets back on June 5th, which came as a reliever.

Chris Young (2-3, 4.28 ERA) vs. Jordan Zimmerman (6-6, 2.48 ERA)

Terry Collins had an eye to bring Young back on the mound for tomorrow’s game, but his three-inning outing in Atlanta on Friday certainly made the decision easier. This will be Young’s third start this season on regular rest, and even though both his wins this year have come on the road, he’s hoping to improve upon his 4.95 road-ERA and .325 opp. batting average. On the other hand, Zimmerman has been a model of consistency for the Nats this season, pitching at least 6 innings in all of his 18 starts this season, while leading the league with 16 quality starts. He’s especially tough on left-handed hitters, holding the opposition to a .239 batting average and 1.60 ERA.

R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.66 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (12-4, 2.93 ERA)

In a game that features two 2012 NL All-Stars, this finale has the best pitching match-up of all. Dickey is hoping to turn around his not-so-great streak; he’s given up five runs in three of his last four starts. The knuckleballer is confident that no one should be pressing the panic button on him just yet. Dickey will be looking to register his seventh win on the road this season, and hasn’t lost since April against the Braves. Meanwhile, Gonzalez continues to prove his worth to the Nationals, winning four of his last five starts. He’s been at his best in the Nation’s capital, posting a 2.31 home-ERA, holding opponents to a .186 batting average.

Who’s Hot:

Ruben Tejada continues to show the Mets he’s the real deal as he’s torn up the competition since returning from the disabled list at the end of June. He’s currently hitting .390/.444/.439 in July, including six multi-hit games. He’s also reached base at least twice in his last nine starts in the lead off spot. The young shortstop is even more excited to hit on the road; in 21 games away from Citi this season, he’s hitting .344/.371/.419.

He’s been battling an ab injury since before the All-Star break that caused him to miss the game, but Ian Desmond hasn’t missed a beat at the plate. He’s hitting .389 in his last ten ballgames, which includes five multi-hit games, four home runs, and nine RBI. In his 352 at-bats in 2012, he already has more home runs (17) and RBI (52) than he did in 584 at-bats in 2011 (8 homers, 49 RBI).

Who’s Not:

One of the biggest reasons the Mets were six games over .500 going into the All-Star break was because of their superb starting pitching. As they were busy going 0-for-Atlanta over the weekend, the starting pitching suffered. New York starters in their last four

games have each given up at least five runs, while only averaging 5 innings pitched per game. The starters Terry Collins is running out in D.C. need to do what they’ve done for most of the year: pitch effectively and deep into the game so the team doesn’t have to expose their biggest weakness, the bullpen.

Jesus Flores has had a tough season thus far (.234/.273/.348) and has also been struggling lately, sporting a .188 batting average in his last ten games while racking up eight strikeouts against only two walks. The right-hander has particularly been having a hard time against southpaws (.185/.254/.333), so he will be more comfortable at the plate once tonight’s game once Niese heads for the showers.

This is an important series for the Mets to get back on track, let’s see what they can do… Let’s go Mets!

Tags: Chris Young Daniel Murphy David Wright Gio Gonzalez Ian Desmond Jonathon Niese Matt Musico Mets Nationals Michael Morse New York Mets R.A. Dickey Rising Apple Ruben Tejada Ryan Zimmerman Series Preview Stephen Strasburg Tyler Clippard

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