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Mets and Nationals begin battle for NL East as Michael Conforto returns

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The first true test of the season is on the road in D.C.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first-place Mets (4-1) are in Washington, D.C. to begin their first road trip of 2018 and face off with the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals (4-2), and some help is on the way. Michael Conforto will be making his season debut during this series, possibly in the first game this afternoon against Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets are coming off a two-game sweep over the Philadelphia Phillies, led by timely hits from Todd Frazier, Travis d’Arnaud, and Amed Rosario. Scoreless pitching performances from Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman also kept the Fightin’ Phils at bay. Oh, and Yoenis Cespedes hit a monster bomb as well. Meanwhile, the Nationals opened the season with a sweep over the Cincinnati Reds, but they will look to bounce back after dropping two of three to the Atlanta Braves.

Both teams have new first-time managers, as the Mets’ Mickey Callaway opposes new Nationals skipper Dave Martinez, the former bench coach for Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs squads. Both Callaway and Martinez have found early success with their respective teams and look to build on their winning ways throughout their rookie managerial campaigns.

A pair of former Mets coaches have switched sides to Washington. Hitting coach Kevin Long reunites with the Mets postseason hero-turned-villain who credits Long for helping to rework his swing: Daniel Murphy. Also, former Mets third base coach and Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale is now the bench coach in Washington.

The Nationals have remained somewhat similar to 2017’s squad. The Nats avoided making a big splash in the free agent pool, bringing in some low-cost pieces that Washington hopes can help them push beyond the NLDS wall they have run into in four of the last six seasons. Pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Joaquin Benoit (minor league deals), catcher Miguel Montero (1 year, $1.3 million), and first baseman Matt Adams (1 year, $4 million) were all new additions added in free agency. Setup reliever Brandon Kintzler (2 years, $10 million) and utility man Howie Kendrick (2 years, $7 million) return from last year’s Nationals team.

Bryce Harper, the right fielder who needs no introduction, has been tearing the cover off the ball so far in 2018, hitting four home runs in his first six games. Catcher Matt Wieters was placed on the disabled list with a mild left oblique strain, so expect Pedro Severino and Miguel Montero to share catching duties in his absence.

One key component that has been missing from the Nationals lineup is Murphy, whose rehab from microfracture surgery on his right knee has been slow with no clear timetable for his return. Left fielder Adam Eaton took home National League Player of the Week honors for the first week of the season, going 8-for-13 with two home runs and five RBIs, scoring seven runs from the leadoff spot. After missing nearly all of last season with a left ACL injury, Eaton is showing just how crucial he is to the Nationals’ lineup.

Probable pitchers

Thursday, April 5: Jacob deGrom vs. Stephen Strasburg, 1:05 p.m. on SNY

deGrom (2018): 5.2 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.59 ERA, 1.05 FIP, 0.88 WHIP

deGrom battled through some command issues in his first start of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals. Nevertheless, he still managed to rack up seven strikeouts and wiggled his way out of trouble to earn his first win of 2018. deGrom will need to regain his command to face a formidable lineup in Washington.

Strasburg (2018): 6.1 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 1 HR, 1.42 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 1.42 WHIP

Strasburg had a typical Strasburgian start versus the Reds last Saturday, striking out seven batters in 6.1 innings. The 29-year-old starter and second ace of the staff in Washington has averaged at least one strikeout per inning in every year he has pitched, except for his shortened 2011 where he returned from Tommy John surgery.

Saturday, April 7: Steven Matz vs. Gio Gonzalez, 1:05 p.m. on SNY

Matz (2018): 4 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, 2 HR, 6.75 ERA, 9.75 FIP, 1.75 WHIP

Matz will look for a bounce back performance after a rough one against the Cardinals. He struggled with command of his off-speed pitches and suffered for it, surrendering homers to new Met killer Paul DeJong and longtime Met killer Yadier Molina. The Mets need Matz to have a short memory and trust his stuff enough to fend off a Nationals team that will be on the attack.

Gonzalez (2018): 6 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.50 ERA, 1.16 FIP, 1.00 WHIP

Gonzalez pitched a very solid game versus the Reds Sunday afternoon. The veteran lefty hammered the strike zone with 17 first-pitch strikes and recorded seven strikeouts. He looks to continue his successes from 2017, posting the best numbers of his career since 2012, where he finished second in NL Cy Young voting.

Sunday, April 8: Matt Harvey vs. Tanner Roark, 8:08 p.m. on ESPN

Harvey (2018): 5 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.00 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 0.40 WHIP

Despite pitching five innings and getting a no-decision, Harvey gave Mets fans a reason to believe he can return to his “Dark Knight” days in Flushing with an inspired outing against the Phillies Tuesday night. This was a major stepping stone for Harvey to build towards a successful 2018 campaign. He will once again be thrust into the spotlight in a prime-time Sunday night ESPN game.

Roark (2018): 7 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.29 ERA, 1.71 FIP, 0.71 WHIP

Roark struggled in spring training, allowing 15 runs on 18 hits in just 10 23 innings, but you wouldn’t have known that if you saw how well he pitched on Monday in Atlanta. Seven innings of one-run ball helped propel the Nats to an 8-1 victory over the Braves. After initially bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, Roark has become a solid fourth starter for Washington.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare against the Nationals this weekend?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!
    (40 votes)
  • 54%
    Two out of three ain’t bad
    (133 votes)
  • 18%
    Win one, lose two
    (44 votes)
  • 3%
    Get completely outplayed and out-managed by Washington in a sweep
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Pizza!
    (19 votes)
244 votes total Vote Now