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Mets face Nationals for the final time in 2016

The division title might seem out of reach, but the Mets still have plenty to gain in the Wild Card race.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Mets may have won two out of three games against the Nationals during Labor Day weekend, but since then Washington has done very little to allow the National League East to slip from its vice-like grip. Dusty Baker’s team just won six of seven games against Atlanta and Philadelphia, and with New York looming as the next guest on the homestand, Bryce Harper and company would like nothing more than to reassert dominance over their most competitive rivals.

While Washington looks to be the more talented squad right now, the Mets at least have motivation on their side. After monetarily dropping behind St. Louis in the Wild Card hunt with an extra-inning loss to Atlanta on Saturday night, the Mets put themselves back in the driver’s seat less than 24 hours later thanks to some heavy lifting by Yoenis Cespedes.

St. Louis will be locked in an epic struggle with the Cubs over the next three days, so the Mets have a good chance to put more distance between themselves and the Cardinals if they can just manage a couple of victories at Nationals Park. But that’s not going to be easy with the way Washington is playing. In particular, Trea Turner has remained red-hot in the leadoff spot and has been one of the best players in baseball over the past week with three doubles, three home runs, and a 1.238 OPS in his last seven games. The rookie’s combination of speed and contact skills are going to make him very tough for the Mets to contain these next three games and probably the next six years as well.

This series will also be Daniel Murphy’s last chance to leave an impression on Mets fans this season. In 63 at-bats against his old team in 2016, the second baseman is hitting .397/.426/.778 with seven home runs. If you think Murphy is just motivated by revenge, though, you should recognize that he has hit a handful of teams harder than that, albeit not in as large a sample.

Murphy’s breakout campaign comes at a great time for Washington, because Harper has not been able to match last year’s MVP performance. Compared to his incredible 2015 season, Harper is making more contact this year, but he’s also making a lot more outs thanks to a .262 BABIP. And while he’s still hitting for great power, his .460 slugging percentage is nowhere near 2015’s .649 mark. The good news is that Harper has stolen a career-high 20 bases this year, which is cool for his future potential as a 30/30 performer, but is not enough to make up for the drop in power.

For the Mets, Curtis Granderson seems to have cooled off with back-to-back 0-for-4 games in Atlanta, but those were right on the heels of an incredible Friday night that saw the veteran outfielder hit his fourth home run in as many games and get on base all five times he stepped to the plate. We know that Granderson wouldn’t keep playing like that forever, but perhaps the good times can keep rolling until the Mets find some much-needed production from first base, catcher, and right field.

Probable pitchers

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Braves Probable Starter
September 12, 2016 7:05 PM SNY Rafael Montero Mat Latos
September 13, 2016 7:05 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard A.J. Cole
September 14, 2016 4:05 PM SNY Robert Gsellman Tanner Roark

Mat Latos

Important stats: 62.2 IP, 35 K, 25 BB, 11 HR, 4.74 ERA, 5.55 FIP, 1.45 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), splitter (81 mph), slider (86 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), cutter (90 mph), changeup (86 mph)

After allowing just two runs over his first four starts of the season for the White Sox, Latos was under consideration for comeback story of the year, but everything fell apart in May when he posted a 6.41 ERA in five starts. Following a rough outing against the Nationals on June 7, Latos was released by Chicago on June 17 only to be picked up by Washington 12 days later. Since joining the major league club when rosters expanded at the start of September, the right-hander has made two relief appearances, the first of which featured a home run by Jay Bruce on September 4. Latos is hoping this upcoming start goes more like the one he had on May 31, when he gave up two earned runs (four total) in five innings to help the White Sox defeat the Mets.

Mets opponent: Now that we know the secret to getting Bruce going, perhaps we can figure out why the Mets keep turning to Rafael Montero in the midst of a pennant chase. After getting through five innings unscathed despite six walks in his first start of the season, the 25-year-old walked four more batters in Cincinnati last Tuesday. This time, the results weren’t as ideal, as Montero allowed three runs in fewer than five innings. If Jacob deGrom continues to miss time and Montero keeps struggling, the Mets might have to turn to Logan Verrett or Sean Gilmartin the next time this turn in the rotation comes up.

A.J. Cole

Important stats: 23.2 IP, 25 K, 7 BB, 6 HR, 4.56 ERA, 5.47 FIP, 1.01 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (82 mph), curveball (75 mph)

Of his four starts in the majors this year, Cole was most effective when he faced the Mets on September 2. In that game, the 24-year-old allowed one run in six innings with five strikeouts and two walks. The good news for the Mets is that Cole has allowed at least one home run in all four outings since joining the Washington rotation in late August, including two long balls by Philadelphia in his most recent start. The youngster looks to have good enough stuff to get big league hitters out, but he also seems to have luck on his side with a .196 BABIP and 80-percent strand rate.

Mets opponent: The big story for the Mets this September has been how well their replacement starters have pitched, but Noah Syndergaard is still the most important member of the rotation due to his ability to consistent dominate the opposition. During his most recent start, he struggled with his control and walked more than three batters for the first time all season, but Thor still held Cincinnati without a run for five innings. Syndergaard was more efficient with his pitches on September 2, when he allowed two runs to Washington in seven innings. That was such an encouraging performance, because during his previous two games against the Nationals, he allowed eight runs over just seven-and-two-thirds innings.

Tanner Roark

Important stats: 186.1 IP, 150 K, 61 BB, 14 HR, 2.85 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.19 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (92 mph), slider (85 mph), curveball (77 mph), changeup (84 mph)

It’s not a sure thing as of Monday morning, but Roark will most likely be on the mound for Washington for the series finale on Wednesday. The Mets were able to score two runs off of him in five innings for a 3-1 victory on September 3, but the Illinois alumnus bounced back with six frames of one-run ball against Philadelphia last Friday. With Stephen Strasburg in danger of missing the postseason with a shoulder injury, Roark is shaping up to be one of the most important players in Washington’s latest shot at that elusive National League pennant.

Mets opponent: Robert Gsellman struck out a career-high six batters during five innings in Atlanta on Friday, but he also allowed four runs and had to be bailed out of the loss by a furious Mets rally. That night also marked the first time the Gazelle Man gave up a home run in his brief major league career. His sinker has been effective enough at keeping the ball in the yard, so if he can just keep his walks down, Gsellman can continue give the Mets quality innings down the stretch.

Prediction: Mets win one of three.

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