It was just under one year ago that the Mets took three out of three games in Washington while coming from behind in each one. The dominance exerted by New York in the series broke the hearts of Nationals fans and allowed the Mets to further distance themselves in the National League East.
Fast forward to today, and it’s the Nationals with a commanding lead in the division, but that hasn’t stopped the Mets from surging ahead and surpassing both Pittsburgh and Miami in the Wild Card standings during their four-game series with the Marlins. New York may have lost the finale on Thursday night, but the damage was already done. Now only St. Louis stands between the Mets and that last postseason ticket (and technically still Pittsburgh, since the Buccos have one fewer loss than New York).
No matter whether or not the Pirates are behind the Mets in the standings, this weekend represents another crucial September series against the Nationals. Washington probably has revenge on its mind, even if getting that revenge wouldn’t also mean earning a few more days of rest at the end of the month.
Several factors have contributed to the Mets and Nationals swapping places in the standings since last year. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon are having bounce-back seasons after both players posted a wRC+ below 100 in 2015. Daniel Murphy is now hitting like an MVP against the Mets instead of hitting like a borderline All-Star for them. Wilson Ramos seems to have finally fulfilled his destiny and become one of the best hitting catchers in baseball.
Yes, the Nationals have improved in many ways over last year, but perhaps the biggest difference in this upcoming series will be Trea Turner, the young shortstop that Washington heisted from San Diego when it sent Steven Souza to Tampa Bay in a three-way deal two Decembers ago.
Turner is not playing shortstop for the Nationals, though. He’s playing center field, and he’s performing way better than Ben Revere or Michael Taylor did earlier in the season. Turner appears to have dropped the patient approach that earned him a .370 on-base percentage at Triple-A this year in favor of an aggressive style that has seen him hit .344/.364/.538 in 44 big league games so far.
No, Turner isn’t getting on base as much as he did at Syracuse, but he is crushing the ball with a .415 BABIP and .194 isolated power. In the 23-year-old’s last eight starts, he has multiple hits in seven of them, so he’s probably not going to start walking again until pitchers learn to keep the ball away from his hot bat. Turner also has 18 stolen bases in 21 tries. Keeping fast runners on first base tends to be a problem for the Mets, in case you’re first breaking in as a fan this week.
Surprisingly, this potent Washington offense scored just nine runs in the team’s recent three-game sweep over Philadelphia, but that doesn’t mean that the Mets will just be able to pitch their way to victory this weekend. Their bats need to be running on all cylinders to support inexperienced starters like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. That’s going to be tough with Neil Walker now out for the season due to back surgery, but other players are heating up to make up for the lost production.
Asdrubal Cabrera stayed hot with a pinch-hit home run on Thursday night despite missing the start due to his nagging knee injury. Yoenis Cespedes has continued to be bothered by his quad issue, but it looks like fellow outfielder Curtis Granderson has come to life with two home runs off the bench on Tuesday. Even Jay Bruce seems to be rounding into form with five hits in his last three games. The Mets may be as banged up as they’ll ever be this September, but the guys who are healthy enough to play are getting hot at the right time.
|Date||Time||Television||Nationals Probable Starter||Mets Probable Starter|
|September 2, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||A.J. Cole||Noah Syndergaard|
|September 3, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Tanner Roark||Robert Gsellman|
|September 4, 2016||8:08 PM||ESPN||Max Scherzer||Seth Lugo|
Important Stats: 12.2 IP, 12 K, 5 BB, 3 HR, 4.97 ERA, 5.75 FIP, 1.11 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (82 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), curveball (75 mph)
The young right-hander has allowed seven runs in two starts since being called up to take the injured Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation, but those two starts came against two of the best offenses in baseball. After lasting seven innings at Baltimore in his 2016 debut with four runs allowed, Cole held the Rockies to three runs in five-and-two-thirds frames in Washington. The Mets would be considered a lighter test, but that might not be the case with how this team is hitting lately.
Mets opponent: After throwing seven strong innings against Philadelphia over the weekend, Noah Syndergaard is now tied for first among all pitchers in FanGraphs WAR with Jose Fernandez. Much of that value was racked up earlier in the year when Thor was more consistently dominating his opponents, but it’s still a great way to show off just how valuable the 24-year-old hurler has been to New York. He seems to be getting that old swagger back, which is great timing considering how much the rotation is hurting right now.
Important Stats: 175.1 IP, 139 K, 55 BB, 14 HR, 2.87 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 1.17 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (92 mph), slider (85 mph), curveball (77 mph), changeup (84 mph)
Roark struggled as a swingman in 2015, but now that’s he’s back in the rotation full-time, the Illinois alumnus is one of the most consistently solid pitchers in baseball, just like he was during his first full campaign of 2014. In fact, Roark has eight starts in which he’s thrown seven or more scoreless innings. That’s the most such outings in the majors and is an example of how even in today’s game, you don’t need to miss a ton of bats to be successful. Roark only has 7.13 strikeouts per nine innings this year, but his ability to keep the ball in the yard and limit walks has made him vital to Washington’s division-leading campaign.
Mets opponent: We were all hoping that Robert Gsellman wouldn’t be needed through a second turn in the rotation, but Steven Matz’s shoulder has been added to the growing list of Mets injuries that just won’t go away. The good news is that Gsellman wasn’t horrible during his first major league start against Philadelphia. He allowed seven hits and four runs in six innings, but also struck out five batters and limited the Phillies to one walk and no home runs. The spotlight will be brighter on Saturday night against the Nationals, and it will be fun to see if the rookie is up for the challenge.
Important Stats: 190.0 IP, 238 K, 45 BB, 26 HR, 2.89 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 0.91 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), slider (86 mph), changeup (85 mph)
Home runs are still the big bugaboo for Scherzer, although not as much as they were earlier this year. Since the beginning of July, the veteran right-hander has allowed just six home runs in 75.1 innings for a 2.27 ERA. Those kinds of numbers will make him a tough opponent for the Mets, who have just three runs scored against Scherzer in 20.2 innings this year.
Mets opponent: When Bartolo Colon finally retires, Mets fans are going to need another folk hero to look up to. Maybe Seth Lugo is the man for the job. So far this year, he’s risen from unheard-of minor leaguer to rock-solid member of the major league rotation. The fact that he was a 34th-round draft pick in 2011 just adds to the grission factor. After leading the Mets to wins in his last two starts, can the amazing Lugo secure another big victory?
We’ve talked over the past month about how the Mets are in desperate need of another right-handed relief pitcher to take some work away from Hansel Robles and Addison Reed. Late on Wednesday night, the front office finally made the move for such a player, or at least someone who has the potential to be that player. The guy is Fernando Salas, and he has a 4.47 ERA with the Angels this year. He’s not missing many bats in 2016, but last season he posted 74 strikeouts and 12 walks in 63.2 innings, which are pretty solid figures for a guy with a 4.24 ERA that year. During his Mets debut on Thursday night, Salas threw a scoreless innings with one strikeout and one hit allowed.
The Pirates might have been regretting the trade that sent their closer Mark Melancon to Washington when Tony Watson blew a save in a crucial game against the Cubs this week. You know who’s not regretting the trade? The Nationals, because they no longer have to deal with Jonathan Papelbon’s drama and now have a bona fide closer to use at the end of games. Since joining Washington at the trade deadline, Melancon has been almost perfect with 14 strikeouts, two walks, and one run allowed in 13.2 innings.
Prediction: Mets take two of three.