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Battle of the NL Least begins as fourth-place Mets begin four-game series with last-place Nationals

The Nationals are bad, but they’ve been playing well, and they look to continue their hot stretch.

Colorado Rockies v Washington Nationals Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

July comes to an end for the Mets (47-54) with a four-game series at home, as the Washington Nationals (43-59) come to town for a battle between the bottom two teams in the National League East.

The Mets are coming off a brief two-game series with the Yankees. In game one, the Amazins were lead by excellent performances from two players: Pete Alonso and Justin Verlander. The former—who had been in one of the worst slumps of his career just a week earlier—had two homers and five RBIs, while the latter—who has been on a solid stretch recently—tossed six scoreless innings. The bullpen had some minor struggles in the final three innings, as Brooks Raley and Grant Hartwig gave up three runs (two for the former and one for the latter), but it was not enough to put the game in doubt, as the Mets had themselves a 9-3 victory.

The second game of the series did not go quite as well for the Amazins. José Quintana made his second start for the Mets; like his first start, he pitched fairly well, but did not receive any run support and wound up taking the loss. He surrendered three runs (though only two of them earned, with the additional run scoring thanks in part to a dreadful error from Mark Vientos at third base) over six innings of work. The Mets’ bats, meanwhile, scored one run against Carlos Rodón on a sacrifice fly from Brandon Nimmo in the third inning, and they had other opportunities against him in his 5.2 innings of work. But they were unable to capitalize, and when the Yankees’ bullpen came in it was all but over, as four different relievers combined to retire the final ten Mets batters in order and end the game at 3-1.

This series split continues a trend of the Mets treading water, not really falling further in the standings but also not doing anything to gain any ground. And now they face off against the Washington Nationals, a team that a good team would undoubtedly take advantage of—as the 2022 Mets did. However, the 2023 Mets have not had much success against their division rivals, as they lost two out of three in the first series against them in April (perhaps the first sign of where things would be going for this squad) and then split a four game series in DC a few weeks later. The Mets will hope that they can finally look like the better team against them this weekend.

However, the Nationals are unlikely to go down quietly, as they are currently on something of a hot streak. They’ve won five of the last six games—including a sweep against a good Giants team—and while they are still in last place, unlike last season they seem to at least have some pieces that could potentially be building blocks for them. For example, CJ Abrams—after struggling mightily with the bat in the early portions of his MLB career—has suddenly looked like an entirely different hitter this past month, as he’s put up a 149 wRC+ in the month of July. Lane Thomas has also had himself a solid season (122 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR), as has Jeimer Candelario (119 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR); while the latter is less likely to be a part of the next good Nationals team, the front office is likely hoping that he has played well enough to fetch back a solid piece at the trade deadline. On the less positive front, Keibert Ruiz—after signing an extension with Washington earlier this year—has struggled in 2023 (86 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR), as has Joey Meneses (95 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR) after his magical last few months of the 2022 season.

The Nationals pitching staff has been lead by young starters Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, two more guys the team is hoping will eventually help to lead them to better times. Their bullpen, however, has endured a lot of struggles, as their 5.43 ERA is the second worst in all of baseball, ahead of just the Athletics. One contributing factor is the recent injuries of some of their better relievers, including Hunter Harvey and Carl Edwards Jr. While that hasn’t helped matters, though, the larger issue is that the Nationals are still a team in transition, and they simply do not yet have the arms in their organization to make for a consistent pitching staff. Still, Nationals fans would likely tell you that this season—while still not an entirely fun one—is overall showing a path forward for them.

Thursday, July 27: Josiah Gray vs. Kodai Senga, 7:10 p.m. on SNY

Gray (2023): 112.1 IP, 98 K, 51 BB, 15 HR, 3.45 ERA, 4.77 FIP, 1.442 WHIP, 2.7 bWAR

Gray served as the Nationals’ representative in the All-Star game a few weeks ago, and it’s not hard to understand why. He’s been a consistent presence in their rotation this year, and after some struggles in his previous two seasons, the hope is that he has taken a step forward and will be a mainstay in the team’s rotation for years to come. Of course, while the overall ERA is pretty solid for Gray, there are still some concerning signs—including his decreased strikeout rate and the fact that he still tends to give up more hits and walks then you would ideally like. But he has cut down his home run rate by a fair margin (1.2 HR/9 compared to 2.3 last year), and in a season when a lot of pitchers have seen the number of home runs they allow go in the other direction, that’s not nothing. Gray’s most recent start saw him toss seven one-run innings against the Giants, striking out four and walking three.

Senga (2023): 99.0 IP, 125 K, 50 BB, 11 HR, 3.27 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 1.263 WHIP, 1.9 bWAR

Kodai Senga takes the mound to make this a battle of 2023 fringe All-Stars. His last start was shortened due to rain, though it wasn’t shaping up to be one of his better ones, as he allowed three runs (two earned) in 3.1 innings of work against the Red Sox. The weather causing the game to be suspended deprived Senga of the opportunity to salvage it into a quality start, but it doesn’t detract from the overall upward trajectory that he has been on. His numbers in the month of July (albeit in just 17.1 innings pitched) are the best of any other month this season, including by ERA (2.08), WHIP (0.865), K/9 (12.5), and K/BB (6.00). A good final start of the month will further cement Senga as someone who is figuring out how to be an great major league pitcher.

Friday, July 28: MacKenzie Gore vs. Max Scherzer, 7:10 p.m. on WPIX

Gore (2023): 101.0 IP, 122 K, 43 BB, 16 HR, 4.37 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 1.436 WHIP, 1.7 bWAR

In addition to Abrams, Gore is one of the pieces the Nationals got back from the Padres in exchange for Juan Soto a year ago. While it’s hard to say that the deal has been worth it for Washington—it’s hard to imagine any return being enough to justify surrendering a player of Soto’s talent—Gore has shown a lot of positive signs this year, joining Gray in being a consistent member of the team’s rotation. For a guy who was a top prospect, the Nationals are undoubtedly hoping that the ceiling is even higher for him, but for now they’ll be happy to take the solid production from him. Gore threw five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts against the Giants in his most recent start; he’s also started twice against the Mets so far this year, and has surrendered just one run in ten innings across those two starts.

Scherzer (2023): 100.2 IP, 114 K, 28 BB, 22 HR, 4.20 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 1.192 WHIP, 1.6 bWAR

Max Scherzer faces off against his former team as frustrations continue to mount about his 2023 performance. Two starts ago, the future Hall of Famer believed that he had figured out an issue which was causing his home run problems. That may have sparked some hope that the long ball would cease to plague him as much as it has done this year. Instead, he followed that up by giving up the most home runs he’s surrendered in one start this year, as the Red Sox hit a whopping four homers against him in six innings of work. So the issue is still very much plaguing Scherzer, and it continues to limit his ability to be successful. His 5.25 ERA across four starts in the month of July is a far cry from what the Mets expect to get from him. Scherzer will hope to salvage the month with a good start against the Nationals.

Saturday, July 29: Patrick Corbin vs. Carlos Carrasco, 7:10 p.m. on SNY

Corbin (2023): 120.1 IP, 85 K, 36 BB, 19 HR, 5.01 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 1.554 WHIP, 0.0 bWAR

Patrick Corbin is the Nationals’ cockroach—he struggles and struggles, but amidst all the implosions he still finds himself a consistent member of the team’s rotation. He’s led the league in losses the past two seasons; he is once again leading the league in that category in 2023. He’s led the league in hits allowed in two of the past three seasons; he is once again leading the league in that category in 2023. He’s led the league in earned runs allowed the past two seasons; he is currently three runs behind Austin Gomber in that category. And yet he and his massive contract continues to stick around. His most recent start saw him give up ten hits and six runs (five earned) in 6.1 innings against the Rockies.

Carrasco (2023): 68.0 IP, 50 K, 31 BB, 13 HR, 5.82 ERA, 5.89 FIP, 1.574 WHIP, -0.3 bWAR

Whatever the exact opposite of a pitchers duel is is what we’re getting on Saturday, as the Mets’ worst starter takes the mound against the Nationals’ worst starter. The Mets have been hoping that Carlos Carrasco would at some point resemble the pitcher he was last year—to say nothing of the pitcher he was earlier in his career—but aside from a few starts here and there, Cookie has continued to disappoint in 2023. He made one of his worst starts of the year this past weekend, as he couldn’t make it out of the third inning and gave up ten hits and five runs against the Red Sox. Prepare for a lot of runs in this game, folks.

Sunday, July 30: Trevor Williams vs. Justin Verlander, 1:40 p.m. on WPIX

Williams (2023): 104.2 IP, 77 K, 33 BB, 21 HR, 4.47 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 1.443 WHIP, 0.9 bWAR

After serving capably as a swingman on the 2022 Mets pitching staff, Williams has gotten the chance to start for the Nationals this year and has performed about as well as the team was likely expecting. It’s not always flashy and it’s not going to win any awards, but plenty of teams (including the Mets!) would sign up for the basic competence that Williams provided every fifth day. In his last start, he surrendered four runs on nine hits in six innings of work against the Rockies. The Mets have hit him fairly well (five runs in 7.1 innings across two starts) when facing off against him this year.

Verlander (2023): 89 IP, 76 K, 30 BB, 9 HR, 3.24 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.146 WHIP, 1.9 bWAR

Verlander has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and July has unquestionably been his best month. Across five starts, he put up a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings of work, which is exactly the kind of quality and quantity of pitching the Mets were hoping they’d be getting from the three-time Cy Young winner. His most recent start was the aforementioned six-inning scoreless start against the Yankees, and he will now look to end July on another high point. He has yet to face the Nationals this year, so a lot of the Washington hitters will be facing Verlander for the very first time.

Prediction: Mets continue to be mid against their division rivals, split series against Nationals


How will the Mets fare in their four game series against the Nationals?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Mets bury the Nationals in the NL East basement with a sweep
    (5 votes)
  • 15%
    Mets secure their position in fourth place with three wins in four games
    (15 votes)
  • 51%
    Mets and Nats tread water, split series
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    Mets continue to struggle against Washington, lose three of four
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Mets contend for last place by getting swept against Nationals
    (7 votes)
  • 11%
    (11 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now