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Series Preview: Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets

After losing four of their last six, the Mets look to reassert themselves as division title contenders.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

That whole winning streak was fun while it lasted, but now that the Mets have lost two series in a row, the honeymoon is over and it's time for New York to get back into the business of trying to win the National League East. That goal starts anew tonight as the Nationals come to town for a four-game series that will decide the state of the division race as we head into the second month of the season.

The turning point?

Although Washington was considered a lock to win the East at the start of the season, the team has done some hard-core slumping during April and now finds itself just one game in front of the last place Phillies and six back of the leading Mets. The Nats are still loaded with talent, though, and a turnaround appears inevitable. In fact, it may have already started.

The narrative writers watch too many sports movies and love to point to dramatic wins or losses as the point where everything turned around. That's why Washington's incredible come-from-behind 13-12 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday night is so important. Not only did the Nats overcome a 9-1 deficit to win that game, but they went on to crush the Braves 13-4 the very next day. Momentum change! Do the Mets even stand a chance this weekend?

Not if Dan Uggla has another Throwback Thursday. The second baseman who was cut by Atlanta last season now has RBI in three straight games, including five during Tuesday's comeback. Uggla got revenge on his former club by crushing a go-ahead home run off of Jason Grilli in the ninth inning. Then he got covered in chocolate syrup by Bryce Harper.

Don't blame the Harper

Before the offense blew up in Atlanta's face this week, the Nationals were dealing with some slumping stars. Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman have all performed below expectations this season, but you know who hasn't? The phenom Harper! He's still only 22 years old and I swear this is the year he finally starts to fulfill his massive potential.

It really might be, though. The young slugger has 29 strikeouts in 22 games so far, but he also has 21 walks and five home runs for a .952 OPS. Those strikeout and walks rates are crazy high right now, but the important thing is that Harper's power could be blossoming just in time for him to carry an inconsistent Washington offense.

Battle of the underrated starters

We see it all the time in sports. The hot prospect who is expected to take over the world turns into a really good but not MVP-good player. Then he's considered overrated because he never lived up to the impossible hype that was placed upon him. That's kind of what has happened to Stephen Strasburg.

Although he bounced back strong from a potentially devastating Tommy John surgery and has never posted a season ERA over 3.20, Washington's ace is now "overrated" because he has zero Cy Young Awards and zero postseason wins to his name. The important numbers don't lie, though. Strasburg is still one of the finest pitchers in the game, even as he's gotten off to a rough start this season.

Last year as a 26-year-old, he struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, walked fewer than two per nine, and posted a 2.94 FIP in 215 innings. Don't let the narrative fool you; this kid has absolutely lived up the hype.

Strasburg's opponent tonight will be Jacob deGrom, a starter who is curiously under-hyped despite coming off of a rookie season for the ages. He appeared as if from nowhere to electrify Citi Field and give the Mets an ace in a season when they were supposed to be missing one. Now that Matt Harvey's back, though, deGrom has taken a backseat, at least from a marketing prospective.

Date Time Television Nationals Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
April 30, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Stephen Strasburg Jacob deGrom
May 1, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Gio Gonzalez Matt Harvey
May 2, 2015 7:10 PM PIX 11 Doug Fister Jon Niese
May 3, 2015 1:10 PM SNY Max Scherzer Dillon Gee

Sure, his strikeout rate is down so far, but hair boy is still keeping those runs off the board. Maybe soon he'll get his own nickname and headlines, but maybe he won't because he's not a top pick, savoir, rebel, or model. Hey, at least deGrom has a gnome.

Prediction: Banana split.

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