MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves

Nationals Series Preview June 15-18

It’s never simple in Mets land. The Amazins, after taking three of four from the Braves and winning a three-game set against the Cubs, have more injury questions to deal with as they head into a four-game series against the Nationals at Citi Field.

Behind a five-run eighth inning and five scoreless innings from the bullpen on Wednesday, the Mets won the rubber game from the defending champs, but it was a costly win. Neil Walker suffered an apparent hamstring injury while running out a bunt attempt in the third. He collapsed to the ground in pain and wouldn’t return. Gavin Cecchini was scratched from the Las Vegas 51’s game and he would presumably be called up if Walker requires a trip to the DL.

Underlying the win was a very troubling start from Matt Harvey, who had diminished fastball velocity and gave up three home runs in his four innings of work. Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ went back-to-back to start the game and, a few innings later, Kyle Schwarber effectively ended Harvey’s night with a bomb to right-center that cleared the Shea Bridge. Afterward, Harvey admitted he was fatigued and wasn’t in a good place physically. Just another day in Flushing.

Things aren’t going so well for the Nationals, either, who now hold just a 8.5-game lead in the NL East over the Mets. They were swept at home by the Rangers over the weekend and dropped two of three to the Braves as their pitching — both of the starting and relief varieties — has hit a real rough patch.

When and Where

Game 1: Thursday at 7:10 p.m. EST (TV: SNY; RADIO: 710 WOR, ESPN Deportes)

Game 2: Friday at 7:10 p.m. EST (TV: SNY/ESPN; RADIO: 710 WOR, ESPN Deportes)

Game 3: Saturday at 4:10 p.m. EST (TV: WPIX; RADIO: 710 WOR, ESPN Deportes)

Game 4: Sunday at 1:10 p.m. EST (TV: WPIX; RADIO: 710 WOR, ESPN Deportes)

Baseball Weather

Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high of 76F and 13 MPH winds (20% chance of rain at night)

Friday: Showers with a high of 73F and 10 MPH winds (60% chance of rain at night)

Saturday: Morning showers but cloudy by the afternoon with a high of 82F and 11 MPH (20% chance of rain)

Sunday: Morning thunderstorms with a high of 81F and 17 MPH (40% chance of rain)

Probable Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Robert Gsellman (5-3, 4.95 ERA, 5.58 DRA, .291 TAv, -0.06 WARP) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (5-1, 2.91 ERA, 3.72 DRA, .250 TAv, 1.63 WARP)

Friday: LHP Steven Matz (1-0, 1.29 ERA, 6.77 DRA, .178 TAv, -0.10 WARP) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (7-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.77 DRA, .197 TAv,  3.85 WARP)

Wednesday: RHP Seth Lugo (1-0, 1.29 ERA, 5.87 DRA, .227 TAv, -0.03 WARP) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (7-2, 3.27 ERA, 2.29 DRA, .224 TAv, 3.09 WARP)

Thursday: RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 4.33 ERA, 2.86 DRA, .260 TAv, 2.42 WARP) vs. RHP Joe Ross (3-2, 6.39 ERA, 4.67 DRA,  .292 TAv, 0.42 WARP)

Who’s Hot?

Ryan Zimmerman: After a lost 2016 season in which he slashed .218/.272/.370 and hit just 15 home runs, the 32-year-old has been one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s batting .394 in June and has already hit more home runs (19) than he has hit since 2013. He’s also 11-for-21 (with four home runs) in six games against the Mets this season.

Adam Lind: The Nationals’ other first baseman has also been incredible despite initially being signed to the Clint Robinson/Tyler Moore role of occasional starts and regular pinch-hitting appearances. When Zimmerman missed a few games last week and over the weekend with a back injury, Lind stepped in admirably and now boasts an OPS above 1.000. He has cut down his strikeouts drastically (currently with a career-low 12.6 K%) while maintaining his power.

The Mets bullpen: The Mets’ relievers have actually been pretty good as of late. Since last Friday’s bullpen collapse in Atlanta, the beleaguered group has allowed just one run if you don’t count the mop-up runs given up on Tuesday against the Cubs. Is it a coincidence that the pen is pitching better as the starters have given the Mets more length? I’d think not.

Juan Lagares: With all the Mets’ outfield injuries, Lagares has gotten more playing time and is running with it. He had the game-tying triple on Wednesday night and has a hit in seven of his last eight games. And, in true Juan Lagares fashion, his batting average in June is .360…just like his on-base percentage.

Who’s Not?

Shawn Kelley: Any Nationals reliever could go here but I’ll pick Kelley, who was great for Washington last season but has been embodied the issues with Dusty Baker’s team in 2017. He has almost eclipsed his walk total from 2016 already and gave up the go-ahead three-run home run to Robinson Chirinos in the 11th inning on Saturday that led to another bullpen blowup. His 6.88 ERA is more than two runs worse than any of his other yearly marks.

Jose Reyes: He is 4-for-29 in June and has the fourth-worst wRC+ (50) in all of MLB this season among qualified hitters. If only the Mets had a top middle-infield prospect that could aptly replace him.

When We Last Met

The Mets took the first two games in D.C. at the end of April, but the series finale was the 23-5 loss that Noah Syndergaard got hurt in. Just one of the Mets who pitched in that game — Fernando Salas — is still on the 25-man roster. Josh Smoker and Syndergaard are on the DL, Sean Gilmartin is in the Cardinals’ organization and Kevin Plawecki (who gave up three home runs in his two innings of work) is with Las Vegas.

It’s Literally a 10-Day DL

Oh boy, lots to cover here. Neil Walker came up lame trying to run out a bunt in Wednesday’s game and was diagnosed with a “left leg injury” by the Mets. As he clearly grabbed his left hamstring while limping up the first base line, that much was clear. Smoker was put on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder strain after tossing a career-high 81 pitches on Tuesday. Michael Conforto hasn’t started since Sunday with back soreness and Yoenis Cespedes seems resigned to a part-time starting role as he recovers from his own hamstring ailment. Also, Matt Harvey felt “tired and fatigued” after struggling against the Cubs. It never ends.

As for the Nationals, Koda Glover — one of the various maligned Nationals relievers — is on the DL with lower back stiffness while Jayson Werth remains out because of a foot injury. Washington is also without outfielders Adam Eaton and Chris Heisey, both of whom will be on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

Notable Quotables

An anonymous Nationals position player on the bullpen’s struggles, from Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post: “We feel like we have to win the game three times.”

Per Newsday’s David Lennon, Terry Collins on the constant highs and lows with the Mets: “One thing I know: [Stuff] happens.” You can guess why he chose to use the bracketed word.

Photo credit: Brett Davis – USA Today Sports

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