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State of the Nats: The main event

Sep 7, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today

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Mets coming to town – At times over the last few weeks, after several bad losses, the Nationals have appeared to have the odds stacked against them. Some had already proclaimed them as dead in the water. It was time to think about 2016 and all the changes that could come this offseason for a team that was falling way short of sky-high expectations.

There were nights when they lost ground to the Mets, when they let winnable games slip through their fingers. The first two games in St. Louis come to mind. So does the series opener against the Marlins on Aug. 28. Or, how about the two defeats to the lowly Colorado Rockies on Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, both of which saw Drew Storen implode?

It was just five days ago the Nationals were 6 1/2 games back, their biggest deficit in the NL East since late April. The Mets were the hottest team in baseball with the best offense and the best starting rotation in the land.

Through the darkest times in recent weeks, many pointed to the six head-to-head matchups against the Mets that were still remaining on their schedule. If the Nats could just remain within striking distance, they could give themselves a chance.

Well, here we are. The Nationals enter Monday just four games out of first place with a huge series beginning on Labor Day. Up next are three games against the Mets in what is arguably the biggest regular season series in Nationals history.

Think about it, the Nats have won the division twice in the last three years, but when was the last time they had to fight for their lives like this in September? They went up against the second-place Braves on Sept. 14-16 in 2012, but they entered that series up 8 1/2 games. Their lead was so large it didn’t even matter when Atlanta swept them.

Now the Nationals’ season could go two very different ways. If they take two of three or somehow manage a sweep, they could enter the final three weeks of the season as the favorites. Or, if the Mets take care of their own business, they could essentially put the Nationals down for good.

Exactly what will happen is hard to predict, but right now the two teams seem to be going in different directions. The Nats have won five straight and 13 of their last 19 overall. The Mets, on the other hand, have lost three of their last five while playing the Phillies and Marlins.

As far as the season series goes, the Mets hold a 7-6 advantage with a +4 (38-34) scoring differential. They also swept the Nats the last time the two teams played, on July 31 through Aug. 2. The Mets are by all accounts a different team since they traded for Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard and they have yet to lose to the Nats since making those moves.

The Nationals, however, feel confident heading into this series with how they have been playing lately. They just steamrolled the Braves in a four-game sweep, outscoring Atlanta 36-8 along the way.

The Mets also have to come to their house.

‘They’re coming into our park, so we just have to keep playing our game,” Bryce Harper said. “They’re a great team, but like I said, they’re coming in here to our place. Hopefully our fans show out for the next three days and we can have some fun and enjoy the game of baseball.”

One should certainly expect a good crowd at Nationals Park. Monday is a holiday and first pitch is at 1:05 p.m. It’s September and a playoff spot is essentially on the line.

“They’ve circled this on the calendar. We’ve circled it on our calendar,” Monday’s starter Max Scherzer said. “They’re going to come ready to play. We’re going to give them everything we’ve got. This is playoff baseball.”

NL East Standings

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NL Wild Card Standings:

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Offensive game of the week: Ryan Zimmerman 9/2 vs. Cardinals – 3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2B, 2 R.

Pitching game of the week: Gio Gonzalez 9/5 vs. Bravees- 6 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 4 BB, 10 SO. 106 pitches, 63 strikes.

Quote of the week:

Gio Gonzalez on Bryce Harper:

It’s incredible to see him go out there and play the game he plays. It’s almost like he’s got the cheat codes to a baseball game.

Tweet (or Instagram) of the week:

source:

source:

Road ahead

MON – 1:05 p.m. vs. New York Mets (Scherzer)
TUE – 7:05 p.m. vs. New York Mets (Zimmermann)
WED – 7:05 p.m. vs. New York Mets (Strasburg)
THU – OFF
FRI – 7:10 p.m. at Miami Marlins (Gonzalez)
SAT – 7:10 p.m. at Miami Marlins (Ross)
SUN – 1:10 p.m. at Miami Marlins (Scherzer)

  1. natsjackinfl - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:12 AM

    This is gonna be fun!

  2. Joe Seamhead - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:38 AM

    We can’t make the game today, but we’ll be there tomorrow night. This whole series should have a playoff like atmosphere!

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 7, 2015 at 7:13 AM

      I’d like to see the Nats fans follow Papelbon’s call to our fans to stand up and energize both the team and the crowd.

      • oldtownatsfan - Sep 7, 2015 at 8:01 AM

        Agreed, Joe! For myself and all the others who will be there today, lets get LOUD and take it upon ourselves to keep everyone around us engaged in the game.

  3. annapmagistra - Sep 7, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Ross, not Roark, for Saturday?

    • Steady Eddie - Sep 7, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      That’s really TBD at this point, per MW after yesterday’s game. They’ll whether or not to shut him down after his next bullpen.

      • Steady Eddie - Sep 7, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        That’s “they’ll decide whether or not to shut him down for the season after his next bullpen.”

Archives

FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS

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ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.

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