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Mets vs. Nationals: Desperate times call for panic and confusion

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Just when it seems like things can’t get worse for the Mets, they go up against baseball’s hottest team.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Abraham Lincoln is representing the Mets in this picture.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Remember June of 2015? Or August of 2016? We’ve been here before. The Mets are incompetent. They should give up and trade all their assets. The postseason is but a pipe dream and this whole campaign is going down the tubes.

No, we haven’t had this feeling so early in the season before, and no, I can’t remember a time when so many bad things happened to a Mets team with such high expectations. Noah Syndergaard has tendinitis in his pitching arm, Yoenis Cespedes will be out for a while with a hamstring injury, and Matt Harvey pitched lousily on Thursday because he woke up thinking he had the day off. All those bad things happened, but there are still two important facts on the table. One, we’ve been here before, and two, there are still 141 baseball games left to play this year.

The first three of those will take place in Washington against the Nationals, a team that is as good right now as the Mets are bad. Not only did they just finish off a sweep in Queens last Sunday, but the Nats went on to clobber the Rockies on the road while scoring 46 runs and winning three of four games. The recent onslaught means that Washington is now scoring 5.86 runs per game, which is the best figure in the majors. That will probably go down this weekend, but will it go down enough for the Mets to have a chance at a win or two?

Mets offense

Cespedes will be out of the lineup in the near future, but New York still has some guys on the team who can help score runs. Michael Conforto continues to be a great young bat that gives us hope for the franchise’s future run-scoring potential, and some of the slumping veterans are starting to show a little life. The media is already starting to whisper about Amed Rosario getting called up to replace Jose Reyes, but the veteran shortstop reached base three times on Thursday, including once on a home run. Neil Walker also proved himself a tough out in the series finale with three hits. The second baseman has had a tough time at the plate this year, but he showed in 2016 that he can carry the offense for a week or two when he gets hot.

Another guy who the Mets need to see bust his slump is Curtis Granderson and his .451 OPS. With Cespedes potentially hitting the disabled list and Jay Bruce cemented as the only healthy first baseman on the roster, Granderson is going to need to play some outfield during this series and get on base while doing so. Along with Walker, he’s another guy who we’ve seen great things from in the past who hasn’t been very inspiring in 2017.

Nationals offense

Washington’s lineup is so en fuego right now that it’s almost absurd. It has five batters with an OPS over .900, which is a lot, even if one of those guys in part-time lefty Adam Lind. The guys that are really haunting opposing pitching staffs, of course, are Bryce Harper and Trea Turner. The former is hitting a Bondsian .418/.535/.823 while making it seem like 2016 was a major fluke and that the 2015 dominant form of Harper is the one we should expect going forward.

Meanwhile, Turner registered a whopping 11 hits during the Colorado series with six of those going for extra bases. On Tuesday night, he hit for the cycle with seven RBI before nearly repeating the feat on Wednesday with only a single, a double, and a home run. Say all you want about how Coors Field boosts offense; what Turner did in four games there was still incredible. It’s barely been one month of baseball, but Washington appears to have four MVP candidates thanks to Harper, Turner, an encore performance by Daniel Murphy, and a throwback one from Ryan Zimmerman. Two or three of these guys might drop off by the All-Star break, but the potential is there for Washington to have a very scary offense all season long.

Probable pitchers

Friday, April 28: Max Scherzer

Important stats: 27.2 IP, 33 K, 8 BB, 2 HR, 1.95 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 0.83 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), slider (86 mph), changeup (85 mph)

If you look at innings pitched and strikeout-to-walk ratio, Scherzer had his best start of the season against the Mets last Sunday night with nine strikeouts and one walk in eight frames. However, he also allowed three earned runs thanks to two home runs, both his high marks for the campaign. I guess I just think its funny that Washington’s ace can pitch so dominantly and have it be a lousy outing from a runs-allowed standpoint. The big takeaway is that New York was able to exploit Scherzer’s major weakness with the home runs and that could allow the team to squeak out a win on Friday if it hits two more.

Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: The other part of the recipe for a Mets victory in the series opener is a solid game from deGrom. Quality starts are a common thing for the fabulous right-hander, but last Saturday against Washington he only lasted five-and-two-thirds innings due to six walks and eight hits allowed. The fact that deGrom’s start also included 10 strikeouts and just three runs allowed is a credit to his greatness, but the Mets will need a sharper version of their best healthy hurler in this seemingly must-win game opposite Scherzer.

Saturday, April 29: Stephen Strasburg

Important stats: 28.0 IP, 29 K, 7 BB, 1 HR, 2.89 ERA, 2.12 FIP, 1.04 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (96 mph), changeup (89 mph), curveball (82 mph)

Strasburg is a lot like deGrom because both are excellent right-handed pitchers who tend to avoid the media spotlight... for the most part. Do you think Strasburg has his own line of awkward insurance commercials that air in Washington? Either way, the former top draft pick was remarkably consistent before having his latest start pushed back due to paternity leave. In all four of his outings, he’s lasted exactly seven innings with either two or three runs allowed. Now all the big, bad dad has to do is stay healthy and fans will finally realize how great he is.

Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: Wheeler settled down quite nicely after giving up a grand slam to Murphy in the first inning on Sunday. He ended up with six strikeouts and two walks with four runs allowed, but the really impressive figures are the seven innings he threw with just 101 pitches. We talk about time and time again how pitch count has been an issue for Wheeler, so this was a big stepping stone for him, as he showed he can pitch deep into a game despite giving up a crooked number early on.

Sunday, April 30: Joe Ross

Important stats: 11.2 IP, 9 K, 3 BB, 3 HR, 6.17 ERA, 5.54 FIP, 1.37 WHIP

Favorite pitches: sinker (91 mph), slider (86 mph)

Despite being pretty solid in part-time rotation work for the Nationals over the past two seasons — he posted a 3.42 FIP in 2015 and a 3.49 FIP in 2016 — Ross was told that he had to compete for the fifth starter role this spring. It’s all worked out for the 23-year-old from California even though he got blown up for five runs in fewer than five innings on Tuesday in Denver. His first major league start of the year was a quality one in Atlanta, and this upcoming one may be as well if the Mets don’t get their act together.

Mets starter: This could be Syndergaard starting in the series finale on Sunday, but the Mets could err on the side of caution and go with a substitute instead. That wouldn’t be such a bad proposition if the most likely substitute wasn’t Rafael Montero, who has been a disaster whenever he’s showed up in the big leagues during the past year. There’s a decent chance that the former prospect gets a chance to redeem himself, but that’s not going to be an easy task if it presents itself.

Bullpens

Washington skipper Dusty Baker is having a tough time deciding on a closer this season, with Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover all registering more than one save so far. Like every Mets roster decision, it seems this one might be resolved due to injury, as Glover just landed on the disabled list with a hip injury. With Treinen already having played himself out of the role, Kelley should handle the ninth inning for now, and he just might stick as the guy if he’s able to perform up to expectations.

Every week we talk about New York’s overworked bullpen, and it often seems like a hopeless situation, especially when Fernando Salas hits the skids like he has over the past two weeks. Maybe Josh Smoker can provide some relief to the relief staff? Terry Collins is using the southpaw as a full-inning guy instead of as a lefty specialist, and it’s paying off. On Thursday against Atlanta, Smoker was perfect for two-and-two-thirds innings, and it wasn’t he first time he was stretched out for multiple frames. In the Miami marathon two weeks ago, he threw three scoreless innings to avoid a walk-off defeat. Outings like those should earn Smoker an important role in the Mets’ bullpen going forward.

Prediction: Mets win one of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare this weekend in Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    A pleasantly surprising sweep!
    (16 votes)
  • 10%
    Win two of three.
    (19 votes)
  • 21%
    Win one of three.
    (39 votes)
  • 46%
    More doom and gloom.
    (85 votes)
  • 12%
    Pizza!
    (22 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now