Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats at Mets (7/31-8/2)

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Jul 25, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets left fielder Michael Conforto (30) runs after hitting a double during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Ricky: What is the level of optimism for Mets fans heading into this series, despite losing 2 out of 3 games to the Nats last week?

Daniel: I think it would’ve been higher had the fan base not experienced the double gut-punch of the non-Carlos Gomez deal and the blown 7-1 lead/rain delay fiasco on Thursday, but with the Mets trailing the Nats by just three games, I think the fans are still pretty optimistic about their chances of sticking around in the race. Despite an uninspiring series against the Padres leading up to this weekend, this is still the biggest series the Mets have played since 2008. I think both the fans and the team will be up for it.

R: Do you feel the Juan Uribe/Kelly Johnson moves are enough as the offense is currently constituted? (Question asked before Cespedes trade)

D: No. The Mets need to make one more move before the deadline to help the offense, and the three names out there that would make a difference are Jay Bruce (who they’re rumored to be discussing), Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. While the Mets are getting some guys healthy and getting a nice year from Curtis Granderson, their contribution from center field this season — with Juan Lagares playing hurt — has been quite bad. Acquiring one of the above players would likely mean Granderson moving to center, which would be less than ideal for the defense. However, it would give them another legit bat for the middle of the lineup. And it would allow for the recently called up Michael Conforto to have some pressure taken off him.

R: After looking at the bullpen moves that both the Nationals and Mets have made (Papelbon and Clippard), who has the better bullpen right now, in your opinion?

D: The Nats, and I don’t think it’s very close. I don’t believe Jeurys Familia is about to go into a tailspin after blowing three straight saves, and Tyler Clippard is a great addition as the setup man. But the loss of Jenrry Mejia (who is an absolute imbecile) for the season due to his second drug test puts the Mets back in the position they were in before they acquired Clippard. On September 1, the Mets’ bullpen might be revamped, though, with Jerry Blevins hopefully back and with Vic Black and Josh Smoker potentially joining them from Triple-A Las Vegas to replace Alex Torres and Carlos Torres.

R: Lucas Duda has struggled for the Mets at first base this season. Why has he struggled this season and do you think he can turn it around this year?

D: Duda struggled up until recently, but he’s picked it up in a big way lately, hitting six homers over the last five games. He’s on pace to finish with 29 homers while hitting .240/.341/.458, and I expect his average and OBP to rise. I think he went into a tailspin for two reasons that are connected. There was no protection in the lineup which led to pitchers throwing him tons of offspeed pitches. Eventually, Duda got tired of being patient and got back into bad habits by chasing pitches out of the strike zone. He’ll still do that on occasion, even when he’s going well, but it’s something he improved dramatically in 2014. And it looks like he’s getting back on track in that regard as this season continues.

R: Recently, New York called up outfield prospect Michael Conforto. Give Nats fans a scouting report on what to expect from Conforto.

D: Conforto is a polished hitter who will display patience at the plate, hit to all fields (sometimes for power), and make lots of solid contact. In the field, he’s improved to the point where he’ll flash above average in left field with solid range and a strong arm. Lots of fans and prospect experts (including Keith Law) felt that the Mets slow-played Conforto as he advanced through the minors. While he’s cooled off since his 4-hit game last week, he hasn’t looked over-matched. He’s still working deep counts and getting on base via walks.

R: When does the team expect Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright back in the lineup?

D: Travis d’Arnaud will be active on Friday and should be in the starting lineup. Anthony Recker has been sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas, meaning Kevin Plawecki will serve as d’Arnaud’s backup. David Wright was recently cleared for baseball activity after nearly three months on the shelf due to spinal stenosis. He’ll head to Port St. Lucie after the weekend to continue his rehab and could be in rehab games within the week. If that comes to fruition, it’s conceivable Wright could return to the Mets around the third week of August.

R: X-Factor for New York heading into this series? Who wins the series and why?

D: Matt Harvey. Even though it’s supposed to take a full season of pitching to return to full strength after Tommy John surgery, most Mets fans thought Harvey would be immune to that. And while he’s been dominant at times, the swing-and-miss stuff has come and gone. Harvey has been more locked in lately, and I think the Mets will get a vintage Harvey performance on Friday night and win. It’ll energize them and result in a series victory as they take two of three.

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