The recent history of the Mets ensures that there’s always a hubbub whenever more than one player hits the disabled list in the same week. That makes it easy to forget that other teams also go through plagues of injuries. Just look at the Nationals. Their issues aren’t in the national headlines thanks to the huge division lead the team enjoys, but Washington is banged up in a big way.
Dusty Baker’s squad was already in an outfield crunch with Adam Eaton lost for the year and Bryce Harper working his way back from a knee contusion, but the situation got worse when Brian Goodwin landed on the disabled list with a groin injury earlier this month. Suddenly, the seemingly minor acquisition of Howie Kendrick before the trade deadline is a big deal. The longtime Angels second baseman isn’t what anyone would consider a superstar, but he’s been a major help to the Nationals by batting at the top of the order and giving them surprising production in left field. Not only is Kendrick a solid defensive asset despite being relatively new to the outfield, but he’s having one of the best offensive seasons of his career thanks to a .409 BABIP.
Even with Kendrick playing so well, the Washington lineup would probably be better off with Anthony Rendon batting closer to the top. Yes, the underrated third baseman continues to be buried by Baker despite doing everything well this year. He makes contact, hits for power, gets on base, and is an excellent defender. He is third in the majors in WAR despite being under the radar for Baker and MVP voters. Can we please bat this guy second instead of Wilmer Difo? Rendon even grew his hair out to look like WWE superstar Roman Reigns, and yet he still can’t get any love (wait, that part is starting to make sense).
Anyway, Washington has such a large lead in the National League East that it doesn’t matter how badly Baker bungles his lineup. Plus, he’s still got Daniel Murphy hitting third and the former Mets All-Star just continues to rake, rake, rake. In the age of uppercut swings and three true outcomes, Murphy has found a way to hit for power without sacrificing his excellent contact rate. His swing is a thing of beauty, but he still hasn’t found a magical elixir to boost his baserunning skills. Those are still horrendous.
The Mets don’t have quite the firepower that the Nationals do, but there were some bright spots to emerge from the youngsters this week. Brandon Nimmo reached base four times on Wednesday night with a double and three walks against Arizona. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that makes him the fourth rookie in Mets history to bat leadoff and reach base in every plate appearance in a game with at least four plate appearances. One of the guys to do it before Nimmo was Mookie Wilson, but the other two were Gregg Jefferies and Kaz Matsui, so let your imagination run wild.
Wednesday also saw Dominic Smith smash his third career home run. With three taters in just 44 plate appearances, he’s ahead of his Las Vegas pace of 16 home runs in 500 plate appearances. Yes, the small sample size rule applies big time, but the show of power is encouraging nevertheless considering that Smith doesn’t project as a huge home run threat.
In the bullpen, AJ Ramos got off to a rough start in his Mets tenure, but his last five appearances have been money with five innings pitched, eight strikeouts, one walk, and zero runs allowed. If he continues to perform like that, New York might have a chance when these games come down to the wire. Since Ryan Madson went on the shelf with a finger injury, the Nationals have relied on former Minnesota closer Brandon Kintzler and fellow July acquisition Sean Doolittle to get outs in the eighth and ninth innings. Both relievers have been excellent since joining Washington, but both also gave up key runs in their team’s extra-inning win over Houston on Thursday night. Despite the recent struggles, expect Baker to stick with Doolittle and Kintzler since the two are responsible for finally bringing stability to what was once a disaster of a bullpen.
Friday, August 25: Jacob deGrom vs. A.J. Cole, 7:05 p.m.
deGrom: 165.0 IP, 191 K, 48 BB, 24 HR, 3.49 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.18 WHIP
As far as legitimate stars go, the Mets are down to just Yoenis Cespedes and deGrom until either David Wright, Noah Syndergaard, or Tim Tebow makes a surprise September appearance. With a 4.62 August ERA and 10 runs allowed over his last two starts, critics are probably thinking that deGrom is wearing down, but the Mets would be foolish not to let him try to eclipse 200 innings for the first time in his career. After all, star pitchers are known for racking up the innings like deGrom has done so far in 2017.
Cole: 22.0 IP, 18 K, 12 BB, 4 HR, 5.32 ERA, 5.63 FIP, 1.59 WHIP
Cole hasn’t been great for Triple-A Syracuse this year, but he’s needed in the majors now that Max Scherzer is on the disabled list with neck inflammation. The good news for Washington is that Cole has been racking up some big league experience with three starts in August, but his team has lost on each occasion. At least he managed a quality start in his last outing with six innings and three runs allowed against San Francisco, but this is someone that even a meager Mets lineup should do some damage against.
Saturday, August 26: Robert Gsellman vs. Gio Gonzalez, 4:05 p.m. on SNY & FS1
Gsellman: 87.2 IP, 62 K, 30 BB, 14 HR, 5.65 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.55 WHIP
Gsellman looked sharp for the first time in a while on Monday with three strikeouts, one walk, and one run allowed in six-and-one-third innings against Arizona. That’s probably what general manager Sandy Alderson was looking for when he said that the 24-year-old needed to pitch better. Now that he’s got something to build on, It will be interesting to see how Gsellman handles Washington’s lineup, as it’s a tough one to navigate even without Harper in the middle of it.
Gonzalez: 162.0 IP, 150 K, 62 BB, 16 HR, 2.39 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 1.12 WHIP
Gonzalez is working with a career-best ERA, even if his FIP says that he was better over the last three seasons. No matter what your favorite stat, though, it’s hard not to be impressed with the southpaw over the past month. In his last four outings, Gonzalez has allowed just two runs with 23 strikeouts and seven walks in 27.2 innings. He’s also allowed just three home runs since the start of July.
Sunday, August 27 (Game 1): Tommy Milone vs. Tanner Roark, 1:35 p.m. on SNY
Milone: 37.2 IP, 33 K, 10 BB, 13 HR, 8.12 ERA, 6.66 FIP, 1.67 WHIP
Mets fans probably weren’t shocked when Milone failed to provide an improvement over Steven Matz as the veteran returned to New York’s rotation last Tuesday. Milone’s knee may be feeling better, but still hasn’t made a start for the Mets without surrendering a home run, and it would be surprising if he snaps the streak this weekend. Murphy is the centerpiece of Washington’s lineup and he hasn’t had any trouble hitting against lefties this year.
Roark: 143.2 IP, 122 K, 55 BB, 18 HR, 4.64 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
After he stumbled through June with an 8.31 ERA and 14 walks in 30.1 innings, Roark has been very consistent over the past two months. In seven of his eight appearances, he’s given up either two or three runs, but he hasn’t completely solved his control issues. That’s strange for a guy who walked fewer than two batters per nine innings during his first two major league seasons, but that type of excellence seems to have escaped Roark for the time being.
Sunday, August 27 (Game 2): Seth Lugo vs. Mystery Starter, 8:08 p.m. on ESPN
Lugo: 68.2 IP, 52 K, 20 BB, 10 HR, 4.85 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 1.41 WHIP
Lugo hit the disabled list after striking out a season-high eight batters in Philadelphia on August 11, but there’s a chance that he’s healthy enough to start one half of Sunday’s doubleheader. That would be convenient, because the backup plan is Double-A right-hander Marcos Molina, and he’s probably not more prepared for the majors than Chris Flexen was.
Meanwhile, the Nationals are thinking of giving Erick Fedde a shot if Scherzer isn’t healthy enough to return on Sunday. This would make a pretty big difference for the Mets since Scherzer is one of the top hurlers in the game and Fedde has been pretty lousy in his first two big league starts this year. With Washington cruising towards October, Fedde seems like the more likely option, but you never know with Baker at the helm.
Prediction: Banana split!
How will the Mets fare against the Nationals this weekend?
This poll is closed
Shock the world with a sweep!
Win three of four.
Keith’s favorite: a banana split!
Win one of four.
Enough with these four-game series, already.