The surging Mets (59-56) open a short home stand at Citi Field this weekend against the division rival Washington Nationals (61-53), sandwiched between two off days. Short as it may be, this is arguably the Mets’ most important home stand of the season so far.
Of course, the Mets have done something truly remarkable since the All-Star break. They are 9-1 in their past 10 games, 13-1 in their past 14 games, 15-5 in their last 20 games, and 21-9 in their last 30 games, propelling them to just half a game out of playoff position entering play today and just 2.5 games back of the Nationals. And if the optimism has you feeling just a little ambitious, they are just 8 games back of the division-leading Braves, against whom there is a lot of baseball still to be played. They have seen their playoff odds rise from 3.9% on July 24 to 42.5% as of this morning, according to Fangraphs.
Skeptics have continued to emphasize that the Mets have put together this incredible run buoyed by a weak schedule, which includes a four-game sweep of the last place Marlins heading into this series. The Mets played a double-header on Monday, at which point they cracked .500 for the first time since late May. They won the first game rather handily by a score of 6-2 on the back of yet another sparkling performance by Jacob deGrom. Then in the nightcap came the fireworks, as the Mets hit three home runs in the seventh inning to stage a thrilling comeback victory, and it truly began to feel like they simply could not lose.
The Mets finished off their sweep with two more convincing victories. Zack Wheeler blanked the Marlins for eight innings on Tuesday, earning his ninth win of the season. He was assisted by three double plays turned by the more defensively-oriented middle infield combination of Adeiny Hechavarria and Luis Guillorme. The key hit was a three-run homer by Wilson Ramos in the third inning, which gave Wheeler a comfortable cushion to work with. On Wednesday, the Mets tagged Jordan Yamamoto for two runs in the first inning, thanks to a two-run shot by Pete Alonso and they didn’t look back. Steven Matz was solid, Michael Conforto hit two home runs, and Jeff McNeil added a shot of his own to seal the 7-2 victory.
How the Mets fare against the Nationals—who currently sit in the first Wild Card spot—will be a huge test of whether this red hot Mets team is for real. Remarkably, these two NL East teams have not played each other since late May, when the Mets completed a four-game sweep of the Nationals. It was the last time the Mets were over .500 before their most recent run and the Nationals were starting to look buried before Memorial Day.
A lot has changed since then. The Mets floundered in June and were 11 games under .500 heading into the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Nationals had a similar run to the Mets’ second-half surge in late-June through early-July where they saw their playoff odds rise from 33.1% on June 15 to 79% at the break. Those odds currently stand at 80.7% after having completed a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants heading into this series, pushing the Giants back to three games out of a Wild Card spot.
Both teams are teams playing good baseball right now, but both teams have their warts as well and their strengths and weaknesses are similar. The Mets’ improbable second half has been carried by their starting rotation, which is predicted to be the best in baseball for the remainder of the season, thanks to deGrom getting back to Cy Young form, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler both being dominant since the break, and the acquisition of Marcus Stroman as an upgrade over Jason Vargas to round things out. However, the Nationals’ rotation is right behind the Mets’, predicted to be the second-best in baseball for the rest of the season. Like the Mets, the Nationals have a fearsome top three, but for the time being, their ace Max Scherzer remains on the injured list and will miss the series with the Mets.
Neither team is well equipped with the depth to endure a long-term injury to one of their five starters. Both teams have formidable lineups that can be quite dangerous when they are hot. But both teams also have bullpen questions and struggles. The Nationals carried the worst bullpen ERA in the major leagues in the first half and bolstered their relief corps at the trading deadline, acquiring Blue Jays reliever Daniel Hudson and Mariners pen arms Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland. Although the Mets did not make any moves for relief arms at the deadline, they have since picked up both Donnie Hart (now optioned to the minor leagues) and Brad Brach in an attempt to solidify their bullpen depth, which certainly remains an issue, as Edwin Diaz’s struggles continue, despite Seth Lugo’s dominance. However, dominant starting pitching and bigger leads late in games will certainly do a lot to limit the exposure of a weak bullpen. The Mets will try to see if they can continue to do that against the Nationals and keep themselves right in this Wild Card race as the schedule becomes more difficult.
Friday, August 9: Stephen Strasburg vs. Marcus Stroman, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Strasburg (2019): 145 1⁄3 IP, 175 K, 36 BB, 16 HR, 3.72 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 1.08 WHIP
Strasburg has been nothing short of fantastic for the Nationals this season. In a career riddled with injuries, Strasburg has finally been healthy this year. And he has been dominant. However, his most recent start against the Diamondbacks was his worst of the season so far. He was walloped for nine runs over 4 2⁄3 innings. But Strasburg has always pitched well against the Mets and holds a 2.75 ERA over three starts against them this season.
Stroman (2019): 129 IP, 102 K, 37 BB, 10 HR, 3.07 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 1.26 WHIP
This will be Stroman’s home debut at Citi Field. His very first start with the Mets did not go how he had hoped, but the native Long Islander will backed by not only the Citi Field faithful, but friends and family as well. His childhood friend Steven Matz didn’t have any advice for Stroman regarding pitching in front of his home crowd other than to compete like he always does.
Saturday, August 10: Patrick Corbin vs. Noah Syndergaard, 7:10 p.m. on WPIX
Corbin (2019): 141 2⁄3 IP, 164 K, 44 BB, 15 HR, 3.43 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.17 WHIP
It has been a solid season for Corbin in the first year of the marquee contract the Nationals gave him in the offseason, even if it is a slight regression from his career year in 2018. His most recent start was his first back in Chase Field against his former team and he was shaky, yielding five runs over 5 1⁄3 innings. Lucky for the Mets, Corbin has struggled at Citi Field, giving up seven runs in eleven innings in Flushing over two starts. The Nationals lost both games.
Syndergaard (2019): 141 IP, 140 K, 38 BB, 14 HR, 3.96 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 1.21 WHIP
Noah Syndergaard has been utterly brilliant since the Mets opted not to ship him away at the deadline and it has been a huge reason for their success since then. Both he and Jacob deGrom seemed to have suddenly found their sliders and it has made a huge difference in their performances of late. Syndergaard holds a 1.78 ERA in five starts in the second half.
Sunday, August 11: Anibal Sanchez vs. Jacob deGrom, 1:10 p.m. on SNY
Sanchez (2019): 112 2⁄3 IP, 96 K, 41 BB, 15 HR, 3.67 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 1.31 WHIP
Even though Sanchez’s overall numbers may be rather pedestrian and his FIP and low strikeout rate suggest that he may have gotten a bit lucky at times this season, he has been lights out since coming off the injured list on May 29. He holds a 2.82 ERA in 12 starts and has been unbeaten over that span. After having a mediocre start against the Braves that resulted in a no-decision, Sanchez bounced back in his most recent outing, going six strong innings against the Giants, giving up just two runs (only one of them earned) on four hits over six innings. The Nationals shuffled their rotation to ensure that it would be Strasburg, Corbin, and Sanchez facing off against the Mets in Max Scherzer’s absence.
deGrom (2019): 143 IP, 182 K, 35 BB, 15 HR, 2.77 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 1.07 WHIP
It’s hard to find much to say about Jacob deGrom other than that Cy Young caliber performance has become routine for the Mets’ ace once again. With other Cy Young contenders having stints on the injured list, deGrom has launched himself right back into the conversation, even if he isn’t quite replicating his historic 2018 campaign. Like Syndergaard, deGrom has really found a groove with his slider lately and has leaned on it heavily in his recent starts. deGrom has posted a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings since the All-Star break and a 2.08 ERA over his last 14 starts.
Prediction: With their three best pitchers taking the mound this series, the Mets are able to take two out of three.
How will the Mets fare in their three-game series against the Nationals?
This poll is closed
Bring out the brooms again! First Wild Card, here we come!
Just one curly W for the Nats. The Mets take two out of three.
The Mets come back down to earth and scratch out just one out of three.
National Nightmare. The Mets get swept.