By Declan Finn
The suddenly struggling New York Mets return to the friendly confines of Citi Field starting Thursday night, a place where they have yet to lose, starting the season a perfect 10-0. Since leaving their home in Queens with an 11-game win streak and the best record in baseball, the Mets have lost two straight series on the road, losing two of three to both the Yankees and Marlins. But the good news is the Mets still sit in first place in the NL East, leading the Atlanta Braves by 4.5 games and the Marlins by five.
The fourth place team, the surprisingly disappointing Nationals, come into Citi Field for four games through Sunday. Here is our insider's look at the big weekend series for both teams.
Washington Nationals (9-13, 4th Place NL East)
at New York Mets (15-7, 1st Place NL East)
Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 4.88) vs. Jacob deGrom (2-2, 2.96)
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Max Scherzer (1-2, 1.26) vs. Matt Harvey (4-0, 3.04)
Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 5.01) vs. Jonathon Niese (2-1, 2.74)
Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Doug Fister (1-1, 3.28) vs. Dillon Gee (0-1, 4.26)
The Mets have seen their historic momentum evaporate after losing two of three games to both the Yankees and Marlins on the road. But the return trip home should make those two series losses a quick thing of the past, as the Mets have yet to lose at Citi Field, and that should be all the momentum a team would need. Plus, two of their big, young stars, deGrom and Harvey, will pitch the first two games. Now, if the Mets lose this series, there might be reason for concern. But not yet. The Nationals lost six straight games before winning the last two against the Braves heading into this series with the Mets, winning the series after a pair of 13-run outbursts. No one thought Washington would be four games under .500 a month into the season, though.
Three Mets Storylines
1. The young guns in the rotation have to get this four-game set with Washington off to a solid start or the Mets will be in jeopardy of losing their third straight series. deGrom goes Thursday against Strasburg and Harvey pitches against Scherzer the next night, so it's not going to be easy, but it will be an extremely early test to see if the Mets can win these huge matchups going forward. deGrom was roughed up by the Yankees in his last start, while Harvey was great in the lone win over the rivals in the Bronx. How they respond here, against a pair of great pitchers in their own right, will teach us a lot about the top of the Mets rotation.
2. The Mets are a perfect 10-0 this season at Citi Field. Last year, the Nationals won nine of 10 games at the Mets home ballpark. So, which will give in this four-game series? The Mets already took two of three games from the Nationals to start the year, in Washington, so they have that working for them. But the Nationals know they owned Citi Field last year on their way to winning the division. The end result could send a message to the rest of the division that either the Mets are for real, or the Nationals are back.
3. Just a few days ago, it appeared the Mets would likely get star third baseman David Wright back Saturday, in time for most of this big divisional series, but that's not going to happen. Wright should miss another week now. He has taken grounders and batting practice, but hasn't done much running besides in a straight line. In his place, Eric Campbell is hitting .222 with a homer and five RBI in 14 games. He gets another week to prove himself on the big stage.
Three Nationals To Know
1. Dan Uggla might be hitting just .196 on the season, but he had a huge series against the Braves heading into this matchup. Uggla went 5-for-11 with two triples, a home run and a whopping eight RBI in just three games. The home run, a three-run, ninth-inning blast to beat the Braves, was his first in more than a year. There's hot and then there's Uggla right now.
2. Much to the chagrin of the Mets, Scherzer's thumb injury didn't force him to miss much time and he will start Friday night, up from his original return scheduled for Sunday. Scherzer, who injured his thumb while batting, has a minuscule 1.26 ERA in four starts, but holds just a 1-2 record. He's allowed four earned runs and 20 hits in 28.1 innings, striking out 29. He's obviously going to be a tough matchup for the Mets, and a worthy challenge against counterpart Harvey.
3. The last time the Mets and Nationals played, Jayson Werth was out with injury. He's back now, but hasn't found his rhythm and the plate just yet. Werth is batting .154 with no home runs and five RBI in 14 games. Werth did have three RBI in the three-game series against the Braves, but had just one hit 11 at-bats.
After a day off Monday, the Mets play a two-game series with the Orioles at home.