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Nationals vs. Mets: So you thought the division was out of reach?

The Mets just beat the champs and the Nats just hit the skids. Is this New York’s big chance?

Washington Nationals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Wednesday night in Queens, Matt Harvey was bad, Neil Walker got hurt, and Yoenis Cespedes’s long warm-up routine forced Terry Collins to use Steven Matz as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. Still, the plucky Mets prevailed anyway in their grittiest performance of the season to take the rubber game from the Cubs. Theoretically, that’s just the kind of confidence-building win New York needed heading into a potentially season-defining matchup with Washington. Realistically, all the confidence in the world might not be enough to topple a Nationals squad that has been so clearly superior this season.

The good news is that Dusty Baker’s team has a glaring flaw in its bullpen, which has been a certifiable tire fire in 2017. Just in case you thought the Mets’ bullpen couldn’t get any worse this year, take a look at the options that Washington has considered at closer. There’s Shawn Kelley, who has allowed an incredible eight home runs in just 17 innings, Blake Treinen with his 6.51 ERA and 1.88 WHIP, and Koda Glover, the young flamethrower who was looking pretty good before letting up seven runs in his last three outings. Perennial middle-relief option Matt Albers has been one of the few guys Baker has been able to count on recently, and even he gave up three runs in a recent 11-10 loss to Atlanta.

The Nationals are coming in with losses in five of their last six games, and they’re bound to improve the bullpen by the trade deadline, so this seems like the perfect time for the Mets to strike. Unfortunately, there’s still that stacked lineup to deal with.

We knew that Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy had a chance to be a very powerful combo in the middle of Washington’s order this season, but few if any fans saw Ryan Zimmerman coming. The 32-year-old former third baseman appears to be fully healthy for the first time in a long time, and he could be having his best offensive season ever with 19 home runs and a .349 isolated power that is over 100 points higher than his previous career best. Whether or not you believe that lineup protection is important, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Zimmerman batting behind the already dangerous Harper/Murphy combo.

The one weakness in the top half of Washington’s lineup might be Trea Turner, who hasn’t quite been able to replicate last year’s spectacular debut. Although he’s got a pair of three-hit games in the past week, the young shortstop only has a .300 on-base percentage this year. Considering that he’s stolen 22 bases in 26 tries and has a trio of All-Stars hitting behind him, it’s imperative that the Mets get Turner out this weekend.

It would also be nice if New York could field a full team in this four-game series. It seems that every time one player comes back from injury, another lands on the disabled list. The next man down appears to be Walker, who left Wednesday’s game early with a left leg injury. He’ll undergo an MRI exam on Thursday, and he could be replaced on the 25-man roster by Matt Reynolds or Gavin Cecchini if a trip to the DL is necessary. That’s very likely since the Mets are already working with a short bench and dealing with day-to-day maladies for both Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

New York will also be shorthanded in the bullpen, as Josh Smoker landed on the DL with a shoulder strain after his extended mop-up outing on Tuesday night. The lefty isn’t the most vital pitcher in the bullpen, but he’s been more effective than Rafael Montero this season. That’s the man who has taken Smoker’s place on the big league roster.

Probable pitchers

Thursday, June 15: Gio Gonzalez vs. Robert Gsellman, 7:10 p.m. on SNY & MLBN

Gonzalez: 80.1 IP, 74 K, 38 BB, 10 HR, 2.91 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 1.32 WHIP

Gonzalez’s ERA says that he’s pitching better than he did last year, but his strikeouts and walks tell a different story. The 31-year-old southpaw is striking out 8.29 batters per nine innings, which is just below his career average, but he’s also walking more than four batters per nine for the first time since 2011. Gonzalez has been under control lately with two very solid starts in June, but throughout May he took the mound six times and walked at least three batters every time.

Gsellman: 63.2 IP, 48 K, 21 BB, 7 HR, 4.95 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 1.46 WHIP

One of the big reasons why the Mets went to the six-man rotation was Gsellman’s recent effectiveness. In his last start, the California native held Atlanta scoreless for nearly seven innings in one of his most impressive performances of the season. Gsellman has been very useful in taking some pressure off the bullpen this year. Whether he’s going to the pen himself when the Mets have some off days or working deep into games like he has lately, the right-hander is doing everything he can to earn Collins’s trust.

Friday, June 16: Max Scherzer vs. Steven Matz, 7:10 p.m. on SNY & ESPN

Scherzer: 91.2 IP, 124 K, 21 BB, 11 HR, 2.36 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 0.85 WHIP

Although the Mets scored eight runs off of him during two starts at the end of April, Scherzer has been one of the best pitchers in baseball once again this year. He’s been especially dominant since late May, when he came one out shy of pitching back-to-back complete games against San Diego and San Francisco. Still, that did nothing to break up the streak of four straight double-digit strikeout games that Scherzer has going, and you know the dominant right-hander would like nothing more than to crush a Mets team that has already done a lot of damage to him in 2017.

Matz: 7.0 IP, 2 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.29 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 0.86 WHIP

If he only struck out a few more batters, Matz’s 2017 debut on Saturday would have been an unmitigated success. It’s always good to have something to improve on, though, and the local boy will once again give fans a reason to believe when he takes the mound as a heavy underdog against Washington’s ace. For such an inexperienced pitcher, Matz has been very consistent when he’s been healthy, but it’s that caveat that keeps him from being one of the top southpaws in the game.

Saturday, June 17: Stephen Strasburg vs. Seth Lugo, 4:10 p.m. on WPIX

Strasburg: 85.1 IP, 99 K, 23 BB, 9 HR, 3.27 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 1.05 WHIP

Like Matz, Strasburg would be more recognizable as one of the greats if he could stay healthy for a full season. The intimidating right-hander hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings in a season since 2014, but he’s on pace for over 200 this season. Once again, Strasburg is doing a great job as one of the top No. 2 starters in baseball, although he was lit up for three home runs against Atlanta in his last outing. Of course, he also struck out 10 batters in five innings during that game, so a repeat shelling would be surprising.

Lugo: 7.0 IP, 6 K, 2 BB, 0 HR, 1.29 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 1.14 WHIP

Last Sunday, Lugo kept New York’s momentum rolling with a stellar debut in a narrow victory over Atlanta. This time around, he’ll likely have to get the ball rolling with the Mets coming off the Scherzer matchup. The goal will be the same, though, as Lugo aims to generate weak contact with his extraordinary curveball. That could allow the Louisiana native to work into the eighth inning this time around. During his first start, he needed just 90 pitches to get through seven.

Sunday, June 18: Joe Ross vs. Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m. on WPIX

Ross: 43.2 IP, 43 K, 10 BB, 10 HR, 6.39 ERA, 4.81 WHIP, 1.53 WHIP

Ross’s strikeouts and walks aren’t indicative of someone with a stratospheric ERA, but he has been bitten pretty hard by the home run ball this year. On the other hand, the 24-year-old Californian is just two starts removed from an ace-like performance against Baltimore in which he struck out 12 and walked none in seven-plus innings of one-run ball. He didn’t even come close to that in Tuesday’s loss to Atlanta, but Ross’s potential is more than apparent.

deGrom: 81.0 IP, 100 K, 34 BB, 13 HR, 4.33 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 1.40 WHIP

I recall one reporter calling Zack Wheeler the ace of the staff after deGrom had two straight poor performances in his last two outings. Like the stud that he is, though, deGrom bounced back with a complete game win over the Cubs on Monday. There’s nothing wrong with Wheeler, and I agree it’s been awesome what he’s been able to do coming off Tommy John surgery, but deGrom has the track record and the stuff to be the unquestioned stopper in Queens until Noah Syndergaard returns.

Prediction: banana split.


How will the Mets fare against the Nationals this weekend?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Get back in the division race with a sweep!
    (81 votes)
  • 35%
    Win three of four.
    (155 votes)
  • 25%
    Keith’s favorite: a banana split!
    (112 votes)
  • 10%
    Win one of four.
    (47 votes)
  • 3%
    At least we beat the world champs.
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    (24 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now