Series Preview: Mets @ Nationals


The Mets and the Nationals are meeting for the second time this season, and it comes at a time when the race in the National League East is as tight as ever. Washington had yesterday off to prepare for the arrival of Terry Collins’ squad in the Nation’s capital. The Mets had an opportunity to sweep a four-game set from the Cardinals and take sole posession of first place, but a 5-4 loss prevented that from happening.

New York is hitting the road after enjoying their longest home stand of the season (11 games) and went 7-4 during that span. They have continued to play well at home (19-12 record) and have gone 7-3 in their last ten games, also taking three of four from St. Louis in their most recent match-up. Currently sitting at 31-24, the Mets are sitting alone in second place in the National League East, and are only 0.5 games behind the Marlins and Nationals for first place. Terry Collins would like to see his team take this series in Washington and improving on their 12-12 road record.

As for the Nationals, Bryce Harper and company are percentage points ahead of the resurgent Marlins for first place in the NL East. A three-game set against the Braves was scheduled over this past weekend, but a Friday rain out made it a two-game series, which the divison rivals split. Davey Johnson and his club continue to stay above water while on the road with their 14-13 record, but are looking forward to getting back home to Nationals park, where they hold a 16-9 record. Washington has gone 5-5 in their last 10 games, which leads them to their NL East best 30-22 record.

How they’re performing:

Within the first few weeks of the season, the Nationals were considered one of the best all around teams in baseball. Some scouts and baseball analysts still think that, but they have cooled down significantly, which is why both the Marlins and Mets have been able to catch up to them. Their offense has struggled due to underperforming players and injuries. Jayson Werth (.276/.372/.439) is still coming back from a broken wrist, but they just activated break-out star from 2011, Michael Morse. Their .241 team batting average is 24th in the MLB and their .311 team

OBP is only good for 22nd in the league. They still haven’t broken 200 runs scored for the year, which ranks 5th worst in baseball. The Nationals offense has been struggling because they have four starters (Ryan Zimmerman, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel, and Danny Espinosa) that are hitting under .250. Morse will be a good boost for the lineup, while Bryce Harper (.288) and Steve Lombardozzi (.309) have been carrying the load, batting average-wise. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond both lead the club with eight home runs and LaRoche is leading the club with 35 RBI.

Dominant pitching has been the key to the success of the Nationals. Their 2.95 team ERA  and 1.14 WHIP are first in the MLB, and their 446 strikeouts ranks 3rd. The starting staff has impressed the most; Ross Detwiler (3.73) has the highest ERA of all his rotation mates, and Gio Gonzalez has the lowest, coming in at 2.31. Davey Johnson currently has four relievers in his bullpen that have appeared in over 20 games (Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, and Craig Stammen), and only Rodriguez (4.95) has an ERA that is above 3.00.

As for the Mets, they continue to hit with the league’s best; their .260 batting average is 10th in the MLB, and their .333 OBP is fifth. They have been starting to score runs in bunches, and their 243 runs are ninth in the league, while a recent power surge has their team total in home runs up to 41, which is tied for 24th in baseball. David Wright (.361 BA) still leads the team in numerous categories; he’s accompanied in the .300 club by Omar Quintanilla (.316) and Daniel Murphy (.301), while Kirk Nieuwenhuis is on the outside looking in with his .299 BA. Thanks to a four homer home stand, Lucas Duda leads the club with nine home runs, and is tied with Wright for the club lead with 32 RBI. What is keeping the Mets from really exploding offensively? Ike Davis and his NL-worst .164 batting average.

The pitching saw a huge improvement over the weekend thanks to shutout performances by Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Before the series against the Cardinals, the team ERA was approaching 4.50, but now it is down to 4.25, still only 24th in the league, but huge progress either way. They were also able to shave their team WHIP down to 1.33, which is 14th in the league. Santana (2.38 ERA) and Dickey (2.69) have won NL player of the week the last two weeks in a row, the first time Met pitchers have done that back-to-back since 1983. Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee have also turned in solid performances within the past week, helping the staff improve overall.

Probable pitching match-ups:

The Mets are going with a different look to their rotation since they wanted to get Santana a couple extra days rest after his career-high 134-pitch game that just so happened to be the first Mets no-hitter in franchise history. Young will be making his first MLB start since 5/1/11 following his successful rehab from shoudler capsule surgery. Hefner got pushed back from the Cardinals series, but he earned another start in the eyes of Terry Collins, so we’ll see what he has to try and keep his name on the Major League roster. To finish it off, Dickey will look to spin yet another gem on Thursday in the finale.

Chris Young (NYM) 0-0, 0.00 ERA vs. Jordan Zimmerman (WAS) 3-5, 2.80 ERA

Jeremy Hefner (NYM) 1-2, 5.60 ERA vs. Edwin Jackson (WAS) 1-3, 3.17 ERA

R.A. Dickey (NYM) 8-1, 2.69 ERA vs. Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) 1-1, 6.43 ERA

Zimmerman is coming off a loss to the Marlins where he cruised for the first five innings, but couldn’t dance his way out of trouble in the sixth, leading to his  fifth loss despite his terrific ERA. Jackson has also pitched much better than his record, whereas Wang hopes to find his Yankee form sometime soon.

Recent head-to-head contests:

The Nationals organization (also counting their time as the Montreal Expos) is one of the few teams that the Mets have a .500 record against all-time ( 371-356), but they have done most of their damage at home, with a 177-181 road record telling the story. This series will be the second time New York faces the Nats this year, with their first match-up coming in the second series of the season. Washington took two of three in that set, dropping the first game and then winning the next two. Jon Rauch beat Henry Rodriguez in the opener in a battle of the bullpens, which at that point, pushed the Mets record to 4-0. Ross Detwiler and then Stephen Strasburg were able to take the last two games of this set, which was highlighted by David Wright fracturing his pinkie on a slide back into first base.

What to watch for:

For the Nationals, it will be fun to watch Bryce Harper do what he does. The 19-year-old rookie has been playing great so far this season

(.288/.380/.542) and has been the spark that the Washington offense so desperately needed at the time of his call-up. Another player to watch for is the performance of Michael Morse. He hasn’t recorded a hit yet in his eight at-bats back in the lineup, but this is a guy who hit .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBI last year, so Johnson is no doubt looking for him to provide the power in this lineup.

Once again, it will be Ike Davis under the microscope with the Mets. He went 1-for-12 in the Cardinals series, which featured all right-handed starting pitchers. The same is happening here against Washington, so Terry Collins will most likely be putting him into the lineup every night. Also, Jason Bay should be returning to the team today. He needs to be productive in order to give the lineup some more balance from the right-handed batters box in order for him to stay in the lineup. Finally, watch Chris Young tonight make his first start since shoulder capsule surgery; it was a long road back to the Majors for him, and I’m glad he made it.

This should be a fun series pairing two top teams in the division…Let’s go Mets!