There isn’t going to be very much on the line when the Nationals make their final 2017 appearance at Citi Field this weekend. Washington has made up a lot of ground on the Dodgers recently, but it’s still going to be tough for Dusty Baker’s team to claim home field advantage in the National League with only 10 games remaining. To do that the Nationals would probably have to reach 100 wins, which is something that Baker hasn’t done since he made his managerial debut with San Francisco way back in 1993.
Instead, this series will probably be about tuning up in preparation for the postseason. There will be a lot of pressure on Washington, as it has qualified for the postseason three times since showing up in the nation’s capital but has yet to win even a Division Series. In fact, the only postseason series win in franchise history came in 1981 when the Montreal Expos won an impromptu NLDS that was caused by a mid-season strike.
With two horses in the rotation to ride and a lineup loaded with talent, it’s hard to imagine Washington bowing out early again, but you can’t predict baseball. Baker has been toying with his lineup lately, moving Howie Kendrick down to sixth and replacing him in the second spot with Jayson Werth. That’s an interesting move considering that Werth spent three months on the disabled list with a foot injury and hasn’t hit very well since returning to the lineup. For some reason, Baker remains opposed to batting Anthony Rendon higher in the order, although he has experimented with him in the third spot while Daniel Murphy battled a hamstring injury this week.
For the Mets, we continue to look for reasons to hope that 2018 will be better. It’s been speculated that the team would look outside the organization for third base help, but both Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera have been playing well lately. For all we know, some combination of the two could be starting at third base and second base on Opening Day in 2018. That wouldn’t be a huge problem if Reyes can continue hitting .318/.408/.591 like he has this month, but his overall offensive numbers and declining defense suggest he won’t be such an exciting asset next year.
Norichika Aoki is another veteran who has played well recently, as he has a .355 on-base percentage since joining the Mets at the start of September. He even got a start in center field in place of Juan Lagares on Wednesday, and perhaps that’s a sign that we’ll get a three-headed monster at the position in 2018. Of course, putting guys like Reyes and Aoki in major roles is working under the assumption that the Mets are not spending money on free agents this winter. That may or may not be the case, but since we follow the Mets, it’s important to operate with the saddest scenario in mind.
Friday, September 22: Edwin Jackson vs. Robert Gsellman, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Jackson: 65.1 IP, 49 K, 25 BB, 18 HR, 4.96 ERA, 6.38 FIP, 1.52 WHIP
Washington picked up Jackson in July to provide some depth to its top-heavy rotation, and he’s been a surprisingly solid addition. During eight starts spread over July and August, the journeyman pitched 49 innings with a 2.94 ERA. The good times didn’t last forever, though, as Jackson has been shelled with multiple home runs in each of his last three starts.
Gsellman: 108.2 IP, 74 K, 38 BB, 16 HR, 5.22 ERA, 4.92 FIP, 1.53 WHIP
Since coming off the disabled list in mid-August, Gsellman has allowed fewer than three earned runs in five of six starts. It doesn’t feel that way because he’s had trouble with the length of his outings and surrendering unearned runs, but Gsellman has been pretty decent lately. He was more than that on Sunday in Atlanta when he held New York’s rival to one unearned run in seven splendid innings, but Washington should provide a stiffer challenge.
Saturday, September 23: Stephen Strasburg vs. Matt Harvey, 7:10 p.m. on PIX11
Strasburg: 162.2 IP, 190 K, 44 BB, 13 HR, 2.60 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 1.03 WHIP
While we were all riled up about Giancarlo Stanton hitting home runs and Cleveland’s winning streak, Strasburg was working on a streak of his own. From August 19 through September 17, the former San Diego State standout set a franchise record with 35 consecutive scoreless innings. At 29 years old, Strasburg appears to be playing the best baseball of his career, and he’s doing it at the right time, as the Nationals prepare to finally break through in October.
Harvey: 84.2 IP, 62 K, 42 BB, 18 HR, 6.59 ERA, 6.15 FIP, 1.67 WHIP
In four of his last five starts, Harvey’s runs allowed have been greater than or equal to his innings pitched. The trend continued on Monday, leading some pundits to wonder if the artist formerly known as the Dark Knight would be tendered a contact for next year. Harvey might be pitching below replacement level right now, but the Mets need depth for 2018, and their former ace makes sense at his likely price tag. Fans might be worried about Harvey “burning” them if he’s let go, but does that really matter if he’ll be on another team in 2019 no matter what?
Sunday, September 24: Max Scherzer vs. Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m. on SNY
Scherzer: 191.1 IP, 253 K, 53 BB, 21 HR, 2.59 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 0.91 WHIP
Not a single starter in the National League has a lower WHIP than Scherzer, and he’s also on pace to lead the senior circuit in strikeouts for the second straight year. We hear a lot about the big contracts that don’t work out, but Scherzer’s appears to be a worthy investment, as he’s shown no signs of slowing down at age 33. It certainly helps that he’s been one of the most durable hurlers around with a run of 30-start campaigns that dates back to 2009.
deGrom: 195.1 IP, 228 K, 59 BB, 27 HR, 3.55 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.20 WHIP
After dominating for much of the summer, deGrom hasn’t been so consistent for the past two months, but lately he’s looked like his old self with 17 strikeouts and three runs allowed in his last 13 innings. In his last two starts against Washington, the ace has been even better with just two runs allowed in 15.2 frames. The 200-inning milestone is finally within reach for deGrom, and he should go into 2018 at the top of New York’s pitching depth chart.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
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Win two of three.
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