What's going on with the Nationals?
With a 60-50 record and the best run differential in the National League, Washington could be considered the favorite to win the NL pennant. If the Braves continue to slump and the NL Central competitors continue to beat up on each other, the Nationals could find themselves pulling ahead of the pack sooner rather than later. To do that, though, they have to take care of business against our Mets. Easier said than done, right?
We can only hope. After a 7-3 loss to Baltimore in a make-up game on Monday, Washington is looking forward to getting on track against the Mets at home, and the Nats have a shiny new piece to help them get the job done. At the trade deadline, general manager Mike Rizzo sent second base prospect Zach Walters to Cleveland in exchange for the more experienced Asdrubal Cabrera. The veteran shortstop isn't hitting as well in the past, but his defensive skills are already starting to pay dividends for Washington.
With Cabrera now manning second base, it frees up the Nationals to play Anthony Rendon everyday at third alongside the strong defensive outfield trio of Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Bryce Harper. It's going to be harder and harder to notice that Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list again.
Who are these guys?
Cabrera looked like a future stud when he hit 25 home runs as a 25-year-old for the Indians in 2011. Since then, however, his offense has tailed off. Cabrera has seen his slugging percentage drop in each of the last three seasons, and his on-base percentage was never fantastic to begin with. For the past two years, he's been a player who hasn't hit well enough to explain away a consistently negative FanGraphs defense rating. The move to second base should turn Cabrera into a plus defender, but it's worth wondering whether or not the Nationals really upgraded their offense when they dealt away Walters, who was raking in the International League.
Speaking of raking in the IL, that's exactly what outfield prospect Steven Souza was doing before Washington called him up. Injury issues as well as a 50-game PED suspension have slowed the 25-year-old's ascent through the minor leagues, but now that he has arrived, he has the chance to make a big impact. Or at least he would have if the Nationals didn't already have a packed outfield. As things stand, Souza has the ability to provide both power and speed off the bench. In future years, he could be a 20/20 player as a major league regular.
Who's on the mound?
Tuesday: Zack Wheeler vs. Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez has struggled this season with a surprising amount of outings that have gone for less than five innings. That has been the case in two of the lefty's last three starts, just like it was the last time he faced the Mets. New York scored five runs on Gonzalez in just three innings back on May 17, and they'll try to replicate the effort tonight. Of course, the real story will be whether or not Terry Collins decides to start Lucas Duda.
With Jon Niese going through some recent struggles, Wheeler is the new Mr. Consistency in the Mets' rotation. Lately it's been impossible for the big right-hander to allow more than two runs or more than two walks in a start, and New York will need another quality start if Gonzalez is on his game. The ability for Wheeler to string together as many solid starts as he has is a great sign for his future as well as the team's. Something else that is consistent: Wheeler hasn't finished the seventh inning since his shutout of the Marlins in mid-June.
Wednesday: Jon Niese vs. Doug Fister
After starting the season on the disabled list, Fister has recovered and become just the solid, back-of-the-rotation presence that the Nationals thought he would be when they traded for him over the winter. Fister's ground ball rate is down below 50 percent this year, but he's making up for it by refusing to walk opponents (only 1.20 free passes per nine innings). The Mets will be getting their first look at Fister this week, and the SNY guys will be happy to know that he's a guy who it pays to be aggressive against.
Now that Niese isn't throwing up quality starts every time he takes the hill, he's become much more of a pedestrian pitcher. His last start was a strange one in which he pitched through eight innings despite falling behind early in the game. Niese admirably tried to pound the strike zone (and ended up finishing without a walk), but such a strategy isn't a good one against the free-swinging Giants.
Thursday: Jacob deGrom vs. Jordan Zimmermann
A Mets vs. Nationals game usually doesn't have the sex appeal to excite a national offense, but this pitching matchup might just have the juice to do that. Zimmermann has become Washington's ace with Stephen Strasburg have a poor (for him) season, and his skills are as good as they've ever been. Like Fister, Zimmermann attacks the strike zone, but he also has the stuff to strike out opponents once he gets ahead. If Fister is like Bartolo Colon with less fly balls, Zimmermann is a right-handed Cliff Lee.
Of course, when it comes to creating a sexy pitching matchup, it takes two to tango. deGrom is up for the task with a string of five starts that has made Mets fans' hearts melt. The combination of flowing locks and efficient pitching is something that New York doesn't have elsewhere on its staff, and deGrom's outings are now must-see events for fans of the orange and blue. The kid is doing well to follow in the footsteps of R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey as Mets pitchers who have made otherwise rudderless seasons much more palatable.
Prediction: Mets drop two of three to a Nationals team that doesn't have any glaring weaknesses.
What about some highlights?
Citi Field wasn't the only major league park affected by a Sharknado this year...
Remember when Teddy used to never win the Presidents Race? Well, nowadays he's pretty much unstoppable (unless there's a Sharknado in effect).
This catch by Span last night created a monster-sized divot in the outfield.
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