NEW YORK - It’s three weeks into April, the Mets aren’t anything close to 100 percent healthy right now and 89 percent of the regular season remains to be played. So the Nationals aren’t gloating too much about their weekend sweep at Citi Field, punctuated by Sunday’s 6-3 victory.
Neither are they apologizing for doing what needed to be done against a weakened opponent.
“I think a sweep against anyone is hard to do in this league,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “They’re a little banged-up right now, but three wins against a team like that, with the pitchers they threw? ... Our guys matched them, got some big hits. It was a good first series, but it’s early and we know we’ve got a lot more work to do than just three games against those guys. That’s a really good team.”
The Mets may prove to be a really good team before it’s all said and done, but they can’t make that claim at this early juncture of the season. Yoenis Cespedes didn’t play in this series. Neither did Lucas Duda. Or Wilmer Flores. Or Travis d’Arnaud.
Jacob deGrom’s originally scheduled start was pushed back a day due to a stiff neck. Asdrubal Cabrera was limited by a hamstring issue. Jeurys Familia is still getting himself back into big league mode after sitting out the first two weeks due to suspension.
So anything less than a series victory would have been a massive disappointment for the Nationals. And a three-game sweep, rare as they may be, still felt more expected than normal given the circumstances.
“We’ll take it, even though they were without probably a quarter of the team,” manager Dusty Baker said. “The Mets have a good team. They’re going to be heard from as soon as they get everybody back. But in the meantime, nobody gives any sympathy in this league, and you’ve got to make hay when you can.”
The Nationals have made plenty of hay during their seven-game winning streak, the last six coming to kick off what was supposed to be a daunting, 10-game road trip.
At 13-5, they now own the majors’ best record, with a 3-game lead over the Marlins in the National League East and a 5 1/2-game lead over the fourth-place Mets. Their lineup leads the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, while their pitching staff leads the league in WHIP and would lead in ERA if not for Jeremy Guthrie’s disastrous 10-run outing in Philadelphia.
Zimmerman is batting .387 with six homers, 16 RBIs and a 1.215 OPS, numbers that should make him a lock for NL Player of the Month. Except for the fact that he doesn’t even lead the team in any of those categories, instead trailing Bryce Harper, who is batting .400 with seven homers, 20 RBIs and a 1.339 OPS.
And we haven’t even gotten to Daniel Murphy, who terrorized the Mets yet again tonight, crushing a first-inning grand slam. The All-Star second baseman is now hitting .386 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 22 games against his former club since signing with the Nats.
“He wants to beat their brains in,” Max Scherzer said. “He won’t say anything, and he won’t say anything to us. It’s not like he’s in here boasting that he wants to beat the Mets, or anything like that. But he wants to beat them apart. That’s the way this is. That’s just the way this goes.”
Scherzer put forth the latest effective performance by the Nationals rotation, bouncing back from two early homers surrendered to go eight innings and improve to 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA.
And with the club playing it cautious with Shawn Kelley (who pitched three times in four days to start the week) it was Koda Glover who recorded the final three outs to notch his second straight save.
What’s not to like? The Nationals are red-hot, and they just won a decisive first battle against their chief division rivals.
“Look, it’s April,” Scherzer cautioned. “We realize we’ve gone toe-to-toe with them over the last two years, and it’s taken everything we’ve got. They’ll still be in this all the way through September. They’ve got too good of a team over there that they’re not going to roll over. I know these guys. They’re going to be grinding us all the way to the end.
“Don’t read anything into this. I’ve seen us play bad baseball for a stretch, and it probably will happen, believe it or not. We’re probably going to play bad baseball at some point this year.”
Maybe so, but the Nationals are playing anything but bad baseball right now.