Coming home from one of their most stunning road trips of the season, the Washington Nationals (73-45) return to D.C. this weekend to face the New York Mets (56-62). The Nats only lost two of 10 games on their preceding road trip, which gave them not only the best away record in the majors (41-23), it put their road record ahead of all other teams' home records. During this series with the stumbling Mets, the Nats will look to add to their also impressive record with home field advantage (32-22).
The Nationals will kick off a stretch of 11 games against National League East opponents with this series against the Mets, and they have an opportunity to pull even farther away from the Mets and the Atlanta Braves who are in third and second place at four and 17 games behind, respectively.
The Nationals will receive an exciting piece of news and a powerful tool for winning as they head into this NL East stretch: for the first time this season, their lineup will be healthy enough to resemble what it was envisioned to be on Opening Day. If you take Wilson Ramos out of the equation because he is out for the season, the lineup the Nationals expect to put together on Friday with the activation of Ian Desmond from the DL will be as whole as it will be all season. The Nats have yet to show Major League Baseball what they are capable of with a full card, and prohibiting any more injuries (knock on wood), they will be an even stronger force than they already are - a force that the Mets will receive the task of testing out first.
The Mets and the Nats are 9-3 this year against each other and 4-2 at Nationals Park. Quite differently than the Nationals, who are 12-4 in August, the Mets are 6-8 so far this month after avoiding a sweep by the NL Central first place Cincinnati Reds in a 8-4 win Thursday night.
The Mets' starting pitching has greatly impacted their lack of wins recently. At the end of June, I wrote a post highlighting the top five pitching rotations in the Major Leagues. The Mets made number five on that list, but in recent days their starters have been much less dominant, falling to eighth in the rankings by ERA. For the month of August their starting ERA is 4.37, while for June it was an MLB best 2.48.
In an effort to find a way to boost the strength of his starting five, manager Terry Collins has decided to make them the starting six. With a six man rotation, adding Jeremy Hefner to the mix, Johan Santana and Chris Young will both get extra rest to reduce stress on their shoulders after undergoing surgery last year. The Mets are also dealing with a shutdown situation, although not quite of Strasburgian proportions; rookie Matt Harvey has a team-imposed inning limit so the six man rotation will allow him to pitch deeper into the season. The one catch to the change: Collins has designed the rotation in such a way that the consistently dominant R.A. Dickey will still pitch on a five day schedule in his quest for 20 wins.
According to MLB.com, Collins thinks the new schedule will make the Mets better as a team, so they can hopefully serve as a problem team for clubs seeking pennants, even if they won't get one themselves.
"We think this is really going to give us the best chance to compete at the level we want to compete," Collins said. "We're going to play some teams that are going to be playing for something very, very special, so we want to make sure we're running the best guys out there."
Not The Same Johan
The Johan Santana that Major League Baseball has seen in his last four starts is certainly not the same Johan Santana that pitched a no-hitter earlier in the season. Through his last four outings he has a 17.36 ERA, a batting average against of .485 and an opposing slugging percentage of .824. Before July rolled around, he was cruising, maintaining a 2.76 ERA through his first 16 starts of the season with a .207 batting average against and a .345 opposing slugging percentage.
Santana was put on the DL on July 21 with a right ankle sprain, in hopes that the physical and mental break would help him return to his former dominance. So far, though, the trip to the DL didn't work as the Mets had hoped; Santana gave up eight earned runs in one and one third innings in his first start back.
The Mets will continue to hope for the revival of their celebrated pitcher, as he takes the hill in the series opener against the Nationals opposing Ross Detwiler. Current Nationals are batting a collective .307 off Santana.
The Mets pitching isn't the only thing they have been struggling with recently; as of Wednesday the team was batting just .213 with runners in scoring position through their previous 10 games.
Ruben Tejada (SS) .326 AVG, .370 OBP, .395 SLG, 3 RBI (last 10 games)
Mike Baxter (OF) .259 AVG, .474 OBP, .259 SLG (last 10 games)
Jon Rauch (RP) 1.13 ERA, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 SV, 3 HLD, 8.0 IP (last 10 games)
Daniel Murphy (2B) .231 AVG, .268 OBP, .333 SLG (last 10 games)
Josh Edgin (RP) 13.50 ERA, .250 BAA, .625 SLG, 4.0 IP (last five games)
Ross Detwiler (6-5, 3.18 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (6-8, 4.58 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (7-7, 3.74 ERA) vs. Jon Niese (9-6, 3.67 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (15-6, 3.29 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hefner (2-4, 4.76 ERA)