Series Preview: Washington Nationals @ New York Mets


Well, after what was a positive three-city road trip for the Mets, they’ve continued to struggle at home in the second half, as they’ve lost three games in a row thanks to a sweep at the hands of Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves. For Terry Collins’ ball club, playing on the road (35-37 in ’12) has been a lot more pleasant than playing in their own backyard this year (30-38 in ’12). The Amazins are 4-6 in their last 10 games and at 65-75, they’re 21 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.

How the opposition is doing:

Although this team will look a lot different going forward without Stephen Strasburgat the top of the pitching staff, some people are forgetting that the Nationals are a fantastic overall team, and should still be considered one of the favorites to represent the National League in the Fall Classic. They’ve virtually been in first the entire season, and at 86-54, Washington has the best record in baseball. Despite the Braves winning five straight, the Nationals are still enjoying a 5.5 game cushion at the top of the division.

Sep 8, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth (28) is congratulated by Ryan Zimmerman (11) and Bryce Harper (34) after hitting a solo homer against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

For the offense, Jayson Werth has taken on the role of lead off hitter, and he’s doing a good job with his .308/.390/.464 line. Roger Bernadina (.300 BA), Ian Desmond (.293), and Michael Morse (.290) have also been hot with the bats of late. Although Bryce Harper‘s line is .260/.331/.454 right now, he’s hitting .351 in his last 10 games, and we know already how much he loves hitting against the Mets. The Nats boast three 20-homer players, but Adam LaRoche‘s 29 dingers outdo Desmond’s 21 and Ryan Zimmerman‘s 20. LaRoche’s 92 RBI are also most on the team, while Zimmerman has a two-run lead on Harper in the runs scored department (83 to 81).

It’s hard not to look at Strasburg’s stats this season (15-6, 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts in 159.1 IP) and say that the void can be filled easily, but if any team can do it, it would be the Nationals. Craig Stammen (6-1, 2.45 ERA in 51 games) and Sean Burnett (1-1, 2.49 ERA in 61 games) pace the bullpen, but Gio Gonzalez‘s 18 wins are most on the staff, as is his 175.1 innings pitched, and he’s only second to Strasburg in strikeouts (185).

Probable pitching match-ups:

Gio Gonzalez (18-7, 2.98 ERA) vs. Collin McHugh (0-1, 3.27 ERA)

These two pitchers take the mound in very different spots in their career. Gonzalez is looking to take over the league lead in wins, while solidifying his case for Cy Young, while McHugh is trying to show his value as a rookie. Gio has been on fire of late, not allowing a run in his last two starts, spanning 16 innings pitched, while striking out 17. Although he hasn’t had a losing month all season, Gonzalez’s ERA in June and July was north of 4.30, but he’s back on track with a 4-2, 2.64 August. McHugh went from the sublime to the ridiculous, as he struck out 9 over 7 IP against the Rockies, then only lasted 4 IP with 2 K’s against the Cardinals. He’s looking to get back on track and show his control of the strike zone, as he’s walked just one in his first 11 MLB innings.

Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 2.99 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (18-4, 2.64 ERA)

Earlier this season, Zimmermann was the epitome of consistency, he’s he threw 16 straight quality starts. Since then, it hasn’t been that good, as the last time he got through 6 innings was August 9th against the Astros…that is, before he retired 14 of the last 16 hitters he faced in his last start, ultimately going 7 innings and striking out 9 in a win against the Cubs. He’s looking forward to hitting the road, where he’s 7-5 with a 2.16 ERA, instead of staying at Nationals Park, where he’s 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA. No Mets pitcher has won as many games as R.A. Dickey has since Frank Viola won 20 and Dwight Gooden won 19 games in 1990. Dickey is primed to continue his quest to 20 wins and a Cy Young, as three of his five complete games this season have come in front of the home crowd.

John Lannan (2-0, 3.46 ERA) vs. Matt Harvey (3-4, 3.04 ERA)

In what would have been a marquee match-up in the finale, Lannan will take Strasburg’s place in the rotation for the immediate future, as the Nats can go with three or four starters in the postseason if they want. Lannan has only made two starts this season, and he’s won both, but hasn’t pitched since August 3rd against Miami. With Triple-A Syracuse this season, the lefty went 9-11 with a 4.30 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 86 hitters in 148.2 IP. Coincidentally enough, Matt Harvey is throwing his second-to-last game Wednesday before he’s shut down for the season as well. He didn’t have his best stuff against St. Louis his last time out, but he’ll be looking for his first win at Citi Field in his career, one that many Met fans hope is long and prosperous one in the Orange and Blue.

This will be the last time the Nationals and Mets lock up for a divisional tussle this season, but the Nats have had the upper hand most of 2012. In 15 games this season, New York is 4-11 (1-5 home, 3-6 away) and have been outscored by 21 runs. Let’s hope this losing trend against Washington will stop this week…Let’s go Mets!