Nationals vs. Mets series preview: A chance to finish the first half strong

The Nationals’ turnaround stalled in Pittsburgh, where they lost two of three to a beatable team. They can’t afford many more series like that one now. More specifically, they cannot afford many more games like the series finale Wednesday, in which Gio Gonzalez bounced back with one of his better starts in a month and a half, but the Nationals could not overcome a two-run deficit. Games like Monday’s, in which a rookie starter struggled, are harder to win. Games like Wednesday’s now qualify as must-win, as do all four games against the Mets this weekend.

Below, find a few things to think about as the Nationals meet the team that had been, until this season, their most formidable NL East competition for the past few seasons. The Mets always seem to play the Nationals tough. The Nationals will have to respond in kind, or face a major division deficit at the all-star break.

MEET THE METS

This Mets team has plummeted since the Nationals last saw it at Citi Field in April. They are 16 games below .500 now, 13½ back in the NL East, and were thrust into relative turmoil by the announcement that their stalwart general manager, Sandy Alderson, would need a leave of absence to battle cancer. The team plans to begin a search for his replacement in a few months, a process that has stoked plenty of midsummer rumors, even as injuries continue to push this team to the point of selling. Their vaunted starters, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, may be available to the right bidder, depending on whom one believes. Yoenis Cespedes has all but disappeared while rehabbing a leg injury.

Outfielder Juan Lagares has surfaced as an offensive force over the past month, and Brandon Nimmo’s emergence has continued with an .878 OPS over the past 30 days. Syndergaard, who has been on the disabled list, will return to pitch against the Nationals on Friday night. They will, however, miss DeGrom.

ROOKIE STARTER

The Nationals’ rotation will not be restored to full strength until Stephen Strasburg returns from the disabled list after the all-star break. Erick Fedde, who had assumed his spot, is now on the disabled list and unavailable. Jefry Rodriguez, who allowed six runs in the first two innings of Monday’s game, was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse and must stay there for 10 days, unless an injury clears a spot for him. The Nationals recalled Austin Voth to bolster their bullpen depth, and he could be the one to fill in Saturday.

If he does — and if the Nationals don’t get desperate for relief help before that — Voth will make his major league debut in that game. The 26-year-old has been called up multiple times this season and has been on the 40-man roster before, but he has yet to pitch in the majors. The Washington state native struggled last season, which pushed him down the Nationals’ starting depth chart, but has regained his velocity and stuff enough to encourage the Nationals about his future. If he does pitch, he will be the ninth pitcher to start a game for them this season.

MURPHY AND THE METS

Daniel Murphy finally has showed signs of regaining his usual form, hitting .381 with an .851 OPS over his past seven games. The veteran second baseman still requires more rest than normal — he needed a day off Wednesday — but he seems likely to play most of this weekend as the Nationals push to the break.

Murphy, the longtime Met, seems likely to want to participate as much as possible. He is hitting .386 with a 1.135 OPS and nine homers in 34 games against his former team.

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Thursday: RHP Max Scherzer vs. LHP Steven Matz

Friday: RHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard

Saturday: TBA vs. RHP Zack Wheeler

Sunday: RHP Jeremy Hellickson vs. RHP Corey Oswalt

Read more on the Nationals:

49 years after D.C. last hosted, All-Star Game remains a ‘You Had to Be There’ experience

Favorite Nationals Park memories, from Bryce Harper to ‘The Mayor’

Stephen Strasburg to make one more rehab start before returning for Nationals

Nationals place all-star closer Sean Doolittle on disabled list

For McLean’s Lauren Shehadi, covering the All-Star Game in D.C. is a ‘full-circle moment’

Read More at The Washington Post