Opposite dugout: After latest distractions, Mets need to focus on catching rival Nationals

mets-logo-square.jpgManager: Terry Collins (5th season)

Record: 52-50

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 2B Daniel Murphy (.271/.324/.393 with 36 RBIs), RF Curtis Granderson (.255/.350/.440 with 16 HR, 36 RBIs), SS Wilmer Flores (.249 with 10 HR, 40 RBIs), 1B Lucas Duda (18 HR, 45 RBIs), RHP Jacob deGrom (10-6, 2.05 ERA), RHP Jeurys Familia (27 saves, 2.22 ERA)

Season series vs. Nationals: 4-6

Pitching probables:

July 31: LHP Gio Gonzalez vs. RHP Matt Harvey, 7:10 p.m., MASN
Aug. 1: RHP Joe Ross vs. RHP Jacob deGrom, 7:10 p.m., MASN
Aug. 2: RHP Jordan Zimmermann vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard, 8:08 p.m., ESPN

Inside the Mets:

The Mets have made the National League East race interesting as we head into August. After losing two out of three to the Nationals in D.C. early last week, New York had won three out of their first five games in this 10-game homestand, splitting a four-game series against the Dodgers and winning the series opener against the Padres. The Mets were only trailing the Nationals at the top of the division by one game. More on that later ...

Including this series, the Mets and Nats play nine more games against each other to finish out the regular season, including what may be a division-deciding series at Citi Field on the last weekend of the season. And with the strength of the National League Central and San Francisco Giants, the East's second-place team might not make the NL Wild Card Game. Currently, the Mets are 4 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the final wild card spot. New York is 4-6 against the Nats so far this season and only 5-8 overall since the All-Star break, yet right in the postseason hunt.

In looking at just the three batting percentages (batting average, on-base and slugging), the Mets as a team rank near the bottom in the NL in all three (.235/.300/.364), while the Nats are around the middle of the standings (.251/.317/.397). However, since the All-Star break, the Mets have fared better than the Nationals in all three by slashing .248/.313/.374 as a team. Contributing to that success is second baseman Daniel Murphy, who is hitting well for an average of .271 with 36 RBIs. Center fielder Juan Lagares is also helping with a .254 average and 26 runs batted in.

But the Mets have power, too. Curtis Granderson is hitting .255 and has hit 16 homers with 36 RBIs while playing right field. After erroneous trade rumors and social media talk had shortstop Wilmer Flores heading to Milwaukee on Wednesday night, expect to see him in a Mets uniform this weekend. He and first baseman Lucas Duda aren't hitting too well for average (.249 and .240 respectively), but have combined for 28 home runs and 85 RBIs. New York has missed Michael Cuddyer's bat over the last week. The left fielder was placed on the 15-day disabled list last Friday with a knee injury. Cuddyer had slashed .250/.303/.380 with eight homers and 30 runs batted in on the season.

Right-hander Matt Harvey starts the series opener for the Mets against Gio Gonzalez. It seems so long ago that Harvey started the season 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA. He's 4-7 since for a 9-7 record and 3.16 ERA on the season. He has flip-flopped results in his last four starts starting with a loss on July 4 to the Dodgers. But Harvey is staying consistent at home, going 6-2 with an ERA of 2.91. Harvey is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts against the Nationals this season. The only loss game came in his latest start against them last week at Nats Park. He went seven innings, but gave up five hits, five runs (four earned) and four walks while striking out three batters. In his only start against the Nats at home, Harvey pitched another seven innings and gave up five hits, but no runs, in what was the last game of his five-game win streak at the beginning of the season.

All-Star righty Jacob deGrom starts Saturday night's game against rookie Joe Ross. deGrom is 10-6 with the second-best ERA in the majors of 2.05. He is 1-0 in two starts since the All-Star break with a 1.32 ERA, giving up only two runs in 13 2/3 innings. The one win and two runs came in a start against the Nationals on July 21. deGrom threw six innings, allowed three hits, the two runs, and eight strikeouts. He followed that outing up by pitching 7 2/3 innings of two-hit ball with two walks and another eight strikeouts against the Dodgers. But deGrom has struggled at times with the Nats. He is 1-2 in three starts with a 3.63 ERA, which is his second-highest against a team he's faced more than once this season. The Nats' 14 hits and nine runs scored (seven earned) are all the most by a single opponent against deGrom this season. Although, his 18 strikeouts against the Nationals are his most against a single club. It's also worth noting that deGrom is 5-2 with a 1.48 ERA at home this season with one of those losses coming against the Nats.

Rookie Noah Syndergaard gets the ball to finish this series on Sunday night's nationally televised game against Jordan Zimmermann. Syndergaard has already made three starts since the All-Star break, going 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA. He's only allowed three runs in his 20 innings pitched. The one no-decision came against the Nationals, his first career start against the club. He only pitched five innings in the matinee, giving up five hits and one run despite five walks and only four strikeouts. But that figured to be enough as he left with a 3-1 lead. However, the Nationals were able to rally in the eighth for the win and the series. Syndergaard hasn't done well at on the road (0-4, 4.34 ERA), so he makes up for it at home, going 5-1 with 1.46 ERA.

The Mets need to focus on their production on the field for this important series. There have been far too many distractions for the club over the past couple of days (i.e. the Flores trade then no-trade and blowing a two-run lead in the ninth after a rain delay yesterday). Before these distractions, they were only one game behind the Nationals in the East. Now they find themselves three games back entering a three-game series against Washington at home after dropping their last two to the Padres, including yesterday's blown save. With all the commotion from the trade deadline and people looking further down the stretch, we could be pointing back to this series as the falling-off point for New York if they aren't able to take at least two out of three from the Nationals.

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