Announcement Podcast Paroxysm talks NBA with SI.com's Lee Jenkins ×

Series Preview: Washington Nationals @ New York Mets

It’s deja vu all over again; the Mets and Nationals are meeting for a three-game set, this time at Citi Field, the second time these two teams have gone against each other in less than a week, and not much has changed since their last meeting. New York is still struggling; coming off getting swept at home by the Dodgers, finding themselves under .500 for the first time all year. Meanwhile, the Nationals lost two of three to the Braves, but a win yesterday stretches their divison lead back to 3.5 games.

How they’re performing:

The Nationals continue to hang out at the top of the standings, keeping themselves in front of the Atlanta Braves. They have gone 5-5 in their last ten games, but going on the road doesn’t matter to Davey Johnson’s young team, as they’ve put together a 27-20 record away from Nationals Park. Michael Morse (.300 BA) and Tyler Moore (.299 BA) continue to stay hot for Washington, as Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond continue to provide consistent offense throughout the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman has been white hot since returning from the All-Star break, but we’ll talk about that in a little bit. The Mets will be facing three of their best starting pitchers, two of which are 2012 All-Stars, so it will be no easy task to score runs over this next series.

On the other hand, the Mets couldn’t be more cold coming out of their midseason break. Finishing the official first half of the season at 46-40,

Jul 19, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets center fielder Andres Torres (56) is congratulated by David Wright (5) and teammates after scoring against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

they’ve proceeded to lose eight of nine, and falling below .500 and virtually out of contention for the division crown. The offense has been struggling, but it’s certainly not because of David Wright (.349/.440/.574) or Daniel Murphy (.306/.344/.434). The starting rotation is now down to two of it’s original members, as Johan Santana joined Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfrey on the disabled list with his injured ankle. With about a week until the trading deadline, these next few games are important as they will decide whether Sandy Alderson feels they should be buyers or sellers before July 31st comes around.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Jordan Zimmermann (7-6, 2.35 ERA) vs. Chris Young (2-4, 4.11 ERA)

Zimmermann has been the epitome of consistency this season, as he’s thrown at least 6 innings in every start in 2012. His ERA has shrunk to 2.35, and he’s currently enjoying a 12-inning scoreless streak. Even though Young has lost both his starts against the Nationals this season, he has pitched well, most recently giving up two runs in six innings last week in D.C. The tall right-hander is looking to turn his month around (0-2, 5.63 ERA) and being at Citi Field will help him do just that, as his home ERA (3.60) is almost a full run lower than it is on the road (4.50). It’s imperative for Young to be precise with his pitches to put hitters away, and he needs to improve upon his 6.28 ERA with two outs.

Gio Gonzalez (12-5, 3.32 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (13-1, 2.84 ERA)

This match-up is a rematch from the series finale last week in Washington, as Gonzalez will look to bounce back from his lackluster performance against New York. Although his ERA is higher on the road, Gonzalez has won 7 of his 12 games this season away from Washington. Dickey was asked to pitch in relief over the weekend against the Dodgers, and gave up a two-run homer to the struggling Juan Uribe. However, the knuckleballer still leads the National League with 13 wins. He’s been quite successful against the Nationals in his two starts this season, pitching into the 8th inning on both occasions. Dickey is looking to bring his best knuckleball to the field on Tuesday, as he’s given up 29 hits over his last three starts, surrendering double-digit hit totals in two of those appearances.

Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.85 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hefner (1-3, 5.85 ERA)

The Mets were able to side-step Strasburg last week, but weren’t so lucky this time around. As the flamethrower continues to get closer to that 160 inning mark, talk about what the Nats are going to do is heating up. He’s been stingy on the road this season (6-2, 2.64 ERA), but even stingier during day games (6-2, 2.45 ERA). This would have been Johan Santana’s day to start, but with him on the DL, freshly recalled Jeremy Hefner will get the start in his place. He’s making his first start for the Mets since June 6th, which just so happened to also be against the Nats. He’s hoping to repeat his 6-inning, 3-run performance, while improving upon his 8.00 home ERA (7 appearances, including 2 starts).

Who’s Hot:

Daniel Murphy has just been on fire lately; he registered two four-hit games against the Dodgers over the weekend, and in the game he didn’t

July 18, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) doubles in the first inning against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

start, he came in and laced a pinch-hit triple. He’s hitting .436 over his last ten games and has seen his season batting average jump 15 points during that span. He’s happy to still be hitting at home (.371/.410/.512), where he’s hit 18 of his 29 doubles and all 3 of his triples this season.

As hot as Murphy has been lately, Ryan Zimmerman has been even hotter. In his last 10 games, he’s hitting an absurd .447, which includes five multi-hit games, a six-game hitting streak, five homers, and eight RBI. He’s raised his season batting average 23 points over the last week and a half, erasing all the memories of his slow start. After enduring his worst month in June (.218/.252/.336), he’s been having a blast in July (.414/.481/.886).

Who’s Not:

Lucas Duda‘s struggles have been apparent well before the All-Star break, but the few days off didn’t help him get his mind right, as the lefty slugger has hit only one homer and collected one RBI in his last 10 games, and hitting .118. He’s been been losing playing time against southpaws to Scott Hairston, as he’s only hitting .225/.275/.324 against them.

Bryce Harper has been scuffling of late, even though he enjoyed back-to-back multi-hit games against the Mets last week. He’s hitting .189 over the last week and a half, and has also only driven in one run during that time frame. The key for Harper will be to get ahead in the count and stay ahead. When he’s in control, he’s hitting .353/.522/.541. When the pitcher can dictate the at-bat, the youngster shows his age with a .226/.226/.312 line.

This is an important series for the Mets to get back over .500 and show Alderson that they can compete for a playoff spot…Let’s go Mets!

Topics: Bryce Harper, Chris Young, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hefner, Jordan Zimmermann, Lucas Duda, Matt Musico, Mets Series Preview, Nationals Mets, R.A. Dickey, Rising Apple, Ryan Zimmerman, Series Preview, Stephen Strasburg

Want more from Rising Apple?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.