Before the Nationals begin their first Mets series of 2016, how important is it to make a statement at Citi Field?
Even though the Nationals lost their final two games of the series against the Marlins, they still enter today in first place in the NL East. Tomorrow night, they will be at Citi Field to take on the defending NL East and National League champions, the New York Mets. The Nats did end last year’s final series on somewhat of a good note with the Max Scherzer 17-strikeout no-hitter, but New York definitely had the edge in the second half of the season.
In their final 12 head-to-head meetings, the Mets went 8-4, including two series sweeps, one in Citi Field (end of July) and one at Nats Park (September). While the Nationals can’t get full revenge for last season, they do come into New York with a different team and a new manager (Dusty Baker).
So, how much does this series really mean? Even though the Nationals and Mets were picked by many to finish in the top two of the division, there are currently four teams in the NL East within 2.5 games of each other. Plus, the Phillies are in second and currently have the third best record in the National League (behind the Cubs and the Nats).
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Of course, the main storyline of this series is going to be Daniel Murphy. Murphy has made his fair share of defensive mistakes lately, but the former Met second baseman couldn’t have made a better first impression in DC (.400, five home runs, 23 RBI’s). He will get a nice reception on Tuesday night for his postseason heroics last October, but Neil Walker has made a good first impression in Queens as well (.266, ten home runs, 20 RBI’s).
Yes, it is still mid-May and there will be plenty of games between these two teams to come (three next week at Nats Park), but this could be a good time for the Nationals to beat up on the Mets. Terry Collins’ squad recently went 4-7 on a 11-game West Coast trip, including losing their last four games and being swept by the Rockies at Coors Field.
Last season, the player who seemed to change the race for the Mets was Yoenis Cespedes. After being traded from Detroit at the trade deadline, Cespedes instantly sparked New York’s offense. In the eight games he played against Washington, he hit .321 with two home runs, seven RBI’s, and a .679 slugging percentage.
While there were rumors of him possibly joining the Nats this winter, Cespedes eventually re-signed back with the Mets. Here’s what he said about that situation after the Mets’ loss yesterday against the Rockies:
Two weeks ago, the Nationals had a chance to make a statement against the best team in the National League at Wrigley Field, but they lost all four games and had some lapses in the field defensively.
While this series won’t change the season and is not a must win, the Nats have their top three starters on the mound in this series (Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg). Plus, with Matt Harvey likely pitching in the series finale on Thursday, can Bryce Harper finally get a hit against him (0-for-20, three walks, seven strikeouts)?
This series is not an end all, be all for the Nationals and their NL East hopes won’t be dashed if they are swept. But, they could definitely make their own statement as they try to get back to that dominance at Citi Field in the seasons prior to last year. For me, this series means more to the Nats than the Mets and it’s not even close.