Mets vs. Nats series preview with District on Deck


With the Mets and Nationals playing an enormous series at Citi Field this weekend, we spoke with Ricky Keeler of District on Deck to get his thoughts on the Nats and his opinion on how the Mets are viewed from the outside… 

Rising Apple: Even with all the injuries the Nats have suffered during the season, did you expect that at this point that they would’ve already pulled away from the Mets?

Ricky Keeler: It is a little surprising that the Nationals are only three games ahead of the Mets. While the Nats have played well at times with some of the backups, they have not been able to put together a stretch of games like they did in the month of May when it looked like they would pull away from the pack. Injuries aside, the Nats rotation has not been as dominant as people thought they were at the beginning of the season, the offense outside of Bryce Harper was underperforming such as Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, and the bullpen was struggling to get to Drew Storen on a consistent basis. However, now that guys like Rendon, Werth, and Zimmerman are back, I expect the Nationals to find their form and eventually win the NL East, but it won’t be easy with the great starters that the Mets have.

R.A: What are your thoughts on the Jonathan Papelbon trade? Should he really be closing over Drew Storen?

R. K.: At first, I did not like this trade, but with the reported price tags of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, this move seemed to be a good fit for the Nationals. They don’t have to worry about Papelbon’s vesting option and they only gave up Nick Pivetta, who was the seventh best pitching prospect in their system, according to MLB Pipeline. Papelbon has been known to have an attitude, which may be something the Nationals need in their clubhouse.

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The main reason I think the Nats made this move was to have a good late inning combination to match up against anyone in the National League and to have someone that has experience closing games in October, should the Nats make it there. While Drew Storen has been great this season, Nats fans and the front office still probably have those 2012 and 2014 NLDS blown saves in the back of their minds, fair or not. Storen has looked strong in the eighth inning and I think he knows that if he pitches well, he will get a chance to be traded to a team where he can close next season. While I would have Storen close over Papelbon, the Nationals made this move to try to further enhance their goal of winning a World Series title by building a solid bullpen.

R.A.: Of all the injured players who have returned or are returning soon, which one is the most important to the success of the Nats going forward in 2015?

To me, the answer would be Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had his struggles at the plate early in the season, but the plantar fasciitis played a big part in that. Even before he went on the disabled list, Zimmerman was playing very good defense at first base, which is an upgrade over playing a platoon of Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson. Against the Marlins this week, Zimmerman was 4-for-11 with two doubles and a solo home run.

While Rendon and Werth are huge for this lineup, Zimmerman is important because he is the player that the Nationals use to hit behind Bryce Harper in the lineup. When the Nats’ first baseman is hitting, Harper is going to see better pitches to hit. It was a small sample size this week, but Harper was 5-for-10 with two home runs and four RBI’s against Miami. Keep in mind, Harper came into the Marlins series without a home run in his last nine games. If Zimmerman can take advantage of those run scoring opportunities, the Nats offense will be strong in the final two months of the season.

R.A.: Looking at it from the outside, how do you view the Mets as an opposing fan? Does the #LOLMets thing that’s so prevalent within the Mets’ fan base spread to fans of other teams and provide amusement?

R.K.: To me, as a New Yorker and being around a family of Mets fans, I do want to see the Mets be competitive. They have the young pitching to be good for a long time, but around the league, I do think there are some decisions made by Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons that seem odd, to say the least. Whether it’s not pulling off the Carlos Gomez trade this week or taking a long time to call up an impact bat like a Michael Conforto, it just seems like the Mets can’t quite get out of their own way at times this season. That being said, the Mets have the foundation to be a contender. If they can get a couple of bats, they definitely have a chance to make the Wild Card. The question is will ownership and the front office get the pieces to help Terry Collins succeed as manager?

R.A.: What’s the feeling of Nationals fans heading into this series since they’ll be facing Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard?

R.K.: I think Nationals fans definitely embrace the challenge. They knew the Mets lined up Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard specifically to beat the Nats and by taking two of three, Washington made a mini-statement. I do think fans feel optimistic because of all the players returning to the lineup and being the healthiest they have been for one of these Mets series.

However, I look at it as more of a cautious optimism. The reason Nats’ fans probably aren’t as worried about this series is because they’ve faced these three pitchers, Kershaw, Greinke, Cole, Liriano, Burnett, and Fernandez all within a span of two weeks. Plus, these are the kind of pitchers they would face if they do make the postseason. It’s a challenge, but I think Nats fans are optimistic and ready to see if their team can take this series on the road.

R.A.: Any big predictions for the series?

When I look at this series from the Nats’ perspective, my X-Factors are Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos. Desmond has had a good second half since getting that pep talk from Cal Ripken Jr. after the Dodgers. He is hitting .293 with four home runs and eight RBI’s since the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, Ramos has struggled with fielding throws to home and has a .159 average this month. That being said, Ramos is notoriously very good against the Mets.

This series is going to feel like a playoff game as I’m sure Mets fans will be fired up to try to make a statement of their own. I think this will be three competitive games, but I am going to take New York to win two out of three. However, my upset pick is that Gio Gonzalez beats Matt Harvey tonight. While Harvey has been dominant against the Nationals in his career, Gonzalez has been the Nationals’ best pitcher this month (3-0, 1.88) and has pitched well against New York this season. However, deGrom and Syndergaard will win the final two games of the series against Ross and Zimmermann respectively.