There is little reason to believe that, come season’s end, the Nationals and Mets will be anywhere near each other in the National League East standings. The rebuilding Nats are supposed to finish at the bottom of the division. The $330 million Mets are supposed to challenge for the division title and play deep into October.
But the season is now 25 percent complete, and the difference between the two clubs is 1 1/2 games. In part because the Nats have now beaten the Mets in four of their seven head-to-head matchups after today’s 10-3 thumping in the finale of a wraparound series on South Capitol Street.
"It was a good series," manager Davey Martinez said. "These guys, they've been playing hard. Let's forget about the first week of the season (when they went 1-6 against the Braves and Rays). We've been playing really well. I want them to take that into consideration. Not just playing one team. But understanding where we're at and what we're doing. It's been fun. They're playing with a lot of energy."
The Nationals have more than held their own against New York, taking two of three last month at Citi Field and now splitting this four-game series. They’ve done so with quality pitching, some improved offensive punch and a whole lot of CJ Abrams.
Abrams was back at it this afternoon, launching a solo homer into the second deck in right field in the sixth inning, his latest blast in a recent power surge by the 22-year-old shortstop. Abrams now has hit four homers this season, three of them against the Mets, two of them in the last two days. He’s suddenly tied with Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario for the team lead in homers, and he leads the team with 22 RBIs despite typically batting ninth.
"We worked really hard with him about getting on top of the baseball, getting ready earlier," Martinez said. "And this whole weekend, he's really conscious about hitting the top half of the ball, still be able to drive the ball and get it up in the air, which is great. He's doing it the right way right now."
Not that Abrams played a completely clean ballgame this afternoon. Back when it was still a 3-1 game in the top of the fourth, he caught Luis García’s feed on Starling Marte’s grounder to second on the run and kept jogging toward the dugout until he abruptly stopped, apparently thinking that was the third out of the inning when it was only the second.
"That's a big moment, to turn two right there," a clearly upset Martinez told his young shortstop in the dugout afterward. "You've got to think about Patrick Corbin, the pitch count. You've got to stay focused in the game. And he was good. He accepts it, and he holds himself accountable. Hopefully, we don't see it again."
The Nationals would get out of the jam no worse for the wear, but the mental gaffe made for quite a bad look for Abrams, who inexplicably has played his worst in the field when Corbin is pitching.
To his credit, Abrams played quite well the rest of the game, from a stolen base that helped create a fourth-inning run to his homer in the sixth to another single in the eighth.
"I didn't really think about it much at all," he said of the way he responded to his early mental mistake. "Just go up there and do my thing. Davey was telling me about just reminding myself how many outs there are by putting (fingers) up. But we'll be all right.
Corbin, thankfully, didn’t need elite defense behind him today because the left-hander again put forth a quality effort, allowing two runs over six strong innings. The left-hander scattered eight hits, all but one of them singles, and walked only one to limit the damage and add another solid outing to a growing list.
Over his last six starts, Corbin now sports a 3.47 ERA and 1.156 WHIP, striking out 22 while walking only four. Despite those numbers, he only today finally got his first win during this stretch, previously the victim of poor run support, poor defense or both.
"I think it's our job as a starter to take the ball every fifth day and try to go as deep as you can and try to save the bullpen," he said. "You always like getting through six. You try to pitch 'til you can't. Hopefully, I'll continue to do that and try to pitch as deep as I can."
Poor run support wasn’t the problem today, with the Nationals jumping on David Peterson and never letting up against the Mets starter or their bullpen. They scored in seven of their eight offensive innings, sustaining production in a way that hasn’t been commonplace this season.
Joey Meneses led the way with four RBI hits, including three doubles, two of them down the left field line, one on a changeup from Peterson, the other on a slider from the New York lefty. The 31-year-old designated hitter still isn’t producing to the otherworldly levels he did during his two-month debut last season, but he is hitting with consistency and driving in runs. Over his last 27 games, he’s batting .345 with six doubles, two homers and 20 RBIs.
"That's what I'm looking for," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I'm just getting that confidence that I had last season and I'm helping the team on the offensive side."
The Nats also got two hits and two RBIs today from Dominic Smith. They got three hits, a walk and three runs from Lane Thomas. And they got Abrams’ aforementioned homer.
Put that all together, the Nationals got another win over the supposedly superior Mets. As the two sides part ways for now, they reside far closer to each other in the NL East than anybody imagined possible. After a 1-6 start, the Nats have gone 17-17.
The Mets? At 20-22, they look nothing like the best team money can buy that they were supposed to be. Check back in 4 1/2 months to see if that remains true.
"Don't let anybody fool you: The Washington Nationals are not a bad team," New York center fielder Brandon Nimmo told reporters. "They can hit, they can throw. They've gotten a lot better since last year, and I think it really just doesn't matter. If you don't come out here, you don't execute, you don't play well, it doesn't matter who you're playing in the big leagues. You're going to lose."
By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/