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Nationals vs. Mets: Injuries arrive just in time for New York’s toughest test

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Can the Amazins prevent Washington from lengthening its early division lead?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much every optimistic prediction regarding the Mets’ 2017 campaign this spring began with “if they stay healthy.” If this team stays healthy, it as a chance to surpass the Nationals in the National League East. If this team stays healthy, it might just win the World Series. You get the point.

Anyway, the Mets may be getting great pitching from Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, but they sure as heck aren’t healthy. Lucas Duda has a hyperextended elbow. Travis d’Arnaud has a wrist contusion that he was surprisingly able to play through last night, albeit only in a pinch-hitting role. Worst of all is this new leg ailment suffered by Yoenis Cespedes that could hold him out for a number of games. We knew Terry Collins would need that outfield depth, right? So there’s a silver lining.

Washington for sure has injury issues of its own with Trea Turner nursing a hamstring injury on the disabled list and Daniel Murphy banged up with a leg issue. The difference is that Dusty Baker’s team has won its last three series, including a recent road sweep in Atlanta. Plus, the guys that remain in the lineup are absolutely crushing the ball.

Nationals offense

Even with the dynamic Turner out of action, the Nationals lead all of baseball with five-and-a-half runs per game. You probably have heard that Bryce Harper is up to his old tricks with six home runs, 13 walks, 10 strikeouts, and a 1.333 OPS, but Adam Eaton has played a key role as well. Many naysayers felt Washington gave up too much to acquire the top-of-the-order outfielder during the offseason, but the Nats are clearly in the business of winning now, or at least before Harper becomes a free agent. Eaton is helping them do that with a .403 on-base percentage that allows him plenty of run-scoring opportunities, and recent history suggests that the former Arizona prospect is going to keep getting on base all season long.

What’s really giving the Washington offense a kick in the pants, though, is the performance of Ryan Zimmerman. The mirror image of David Wright — grew up in Virginia, plays third base, has been with his team since the mid-2000s, has been often injured the past few years — is hitting .389/.431/.778 so far with five home runs. Because he’s been around so long and looked so washed up last year, it’s easy to forget that Zimmerman is just 32 years old and probably capable of being a productive hitter again if his body holds up. This hot start is almost enough to give you hope that Wright can do something similar in the future.

Mets offense

Cespedes is likely going to be out for a few days, which would have meant an outfield of Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Jay Bruce... if Duda were capable of playing first base. Instead, we could see Juan Lagares in center field and Jay Bruce at first base against right-handed pitching and Bruce in the outfield with Wilmer Flores at first base against the one lefty in this series. That’s how I think it will shape up, but you never know with Collins.

Even with Cespedes out, that outfield doesn’t look terrible. That’s how good Bruce and Conforto have been so far. It’s like everything Mets fans wanted to happen in the second half of last season is finally happening in 2017. The only problem is that Granderson isn’t hitting at all, but we’ve seen him in slumps like this before, and he’s always managed to pull out of them and play like Superman for a couple of months. Here’s hoping he can hold off Father Time for a little while until his contract expires. If he can’t, there’s your fourth outfielder.

Probable pitchers

Tanner Roark

Important stats: 18.0 IP, 12 K, 2 BB, 0 HR, 3.50 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 0.89 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (86 mph), changeup (83 mph), four-seam fastball (92 mph)

Last year, Roark was worth about three WAR with a 2.83 ERA even though he wasn’t a spectacular pitcher at all. He got a decent amount of ground balls, but also walked three batters per nine innings. That rate is not going to cut it for a guy with stuff as pedestrian as Roark’s, but the steady right-hander is doing a better job limiting walks in 2017, with zero in his last two starts. Maybe if he keeps this up, he can turn into a younger version of Bartolo Colon. On the other hand, the whole “old, chubby guy playing baseball” thing is a big part of Colon’s charm that will be tough to replicate.

Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: On his podcast earlier this week, ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned deGrom as one of the most underrated players in baseball. I have to say I agree, since I’ve taken a similar stance whenever I write about the floppy-haired flamethrower. deGrom may be overshadowed on his own team, but I don’t think Mets fans take for granted how important he is to New York’s success. And anyone who did before his last start got a healthy dose of reality when deGrom struck out 13 Miami batters with just one walk allowed in seven innings.

Gio Gonzalez

Important stats: 20.1 IP, 15 K, 5 BB, 2 HR, 1.33 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.13 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), curveball (76 mph), changeup (84 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph)

Gonzalez has been a solid southpaw throughout his Washington tenure, but last year he saw his ERA and FIP dramatically increase due to a career-high 19 home runs allowed. In his first three starts of this season, the 31-year-old Floridian is pitching a little differently, with more contact and fewer walks than we’re used to, and the results so far have been positive. Gonzalez is working deeper into games and he’s on pace to surpass 200 innings for the first time as a member of the Nationals.

Mets starter, Matt Harvey: Harvey bounced back from a slight hamstring issue to pitch a quality start in Miami on Sunday with two runs allowed in six innings. His 2.45 ERA and 0.98 WHIP look good for now, but the North Carolina product has been helped along by a .245 BABIP that helps make up for a strikeout rate that has been steadily decreasing since he debuted back in 2012. If Harvey can get back to striking out a batter per inning, he can return to being the star that Mets fans want him to be.

Max Scherzer

Important stats: 19.2 IP, 24 K, 7 BB, 0 HR, 1.37 ERA, 1.68 FIP, 0.86 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), slider (86 mph), changeup (86 mph)

Despite a spike in home run rate that has caused Scherzer to allow 58 home runs over the past two seasons, he’s been every bit the ace that Washington paid lots of money to acquire before the 2015 season. So far this season, the former Detroit hurler has been just as dominant as ever with three earned runs allowed in three starts. Scherzer has kept the home run bug at bay, but that shouldn’t continue for too long, since he’s getting just as many fly balls as before.

Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: Wheeler’s recent start against Philadelphia was his strongest yet, as he struck out seven batters in five innings with just two walks and one run allowed. It’s impressive that his stuff looks just as good as it did before Tommy John Surgery, but the right-hander did run into a familiar issue against the Phillies, as his pitch count ran up to 99. I guess we should just be happy that Terry Collins let him throw that many pitches after holding him below 90 in two previous starts, but the Mets should be doing their best to conserve Wheeler at least until Steven Matz returns to action.

Bullpens

Dusty Baker shocked the fantasy baseball world at the outset of the season by saying that it would not be Shawn Kelley or Koda Glover serving as Washington’s closer in 2017, but South Dakota State product Blake Treinen. Well, that experiment lasted about two weeks. Treinen has walked six batters and allowed five runs in his first six-plus innings, and now Baker is back to Kelley as his guy. The 32-year-old journeyman was outstanding last year with 80 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 2.64 ERA in 58 innings, but got off to a slow start in 2017 with runs allowed in his first three outings. However, he’s locked it down when it counts to record saves in his first two chances against Atlanta this week.

The Mets could also have a new closer very soon as Jeurys Familia made his 2017 debut in the ninth inning of a losing effort on Thursday night against Philadelphia. The good news is that he didn’t give up any runs, but the control issue from last year might be carrying over, as the Dominican right-hander issued a pair of walks. With Addison Reed having surrendered runs in two of his last three outings and the magic pixie dust wearing off of Fernando Salas, it looks like Familia could take over the closer role right away. No matter what job he works in, Familia’s presence will help balance out a bullpen that has been woefully overworked early in the season.

Prediction: Mets win one of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare against the Nationals this weekend?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Sweep into first place!
    (18 votes)
  • 23%
    Win two of three.
    (49 votes)
  • 32%
    Win one of three.
    (67 votes)
  • 26%
    How’d we ever win eight?
    (54 votes)
  • 8%
    Pizza!
    (18 votes)
206 votes total Vote Now