10:30 PM EST, ESPN – Money Line: Nationals -117, Run Line: 9o20
Division rivals meet in the Big Apple, as the New York Mets host the Washington Nationals in the first entry of a four-game series from Citi Field, in New York City. Despite owning a healthy 8.5-game lead over their opponent tonight in the National League East, the Nationals (39-26, 1st in NL East) need to find a way to pick themselves back up off the mat lest they give the Mets an opportunity to rally back up the standings. After winning twelve out of fifteen contests, Dusty Baker’s troops have fallen into a slump, dropping six out of their last eight, including an embarrassing 13-2 loss at home to the struggling Atlanta Braves. Washington was unable to stave off the early onslaught from the visiting side, as Atlanta scored three runs in the First Inning, before racking up three more over the following two frames of play. Needless to say, but Wednesday’s Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) didn’t last long, getting tagged for seven earned runs on nine hits, including a home run in just seven innings of work. Initially, the Bullpen didn’t fare any better, as Reliever Trevor Gott, well, got got, serving up another five earned runs on five hits, in 1.2 innings of labor. For their part, the Batting Order didn’t do much to make a difference either, as the top of the Lineup, featuring MVP candidate Bryce Harper (.315 BA, 15 2B, 16 HR, 49 RBI), went a combined 2-for-15 from the plate. With the exception of a two-run homer in the Second Inning courtesy of Brian Goodwin (.267 BA, 4 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI), the Nationals came up with just six hits on the night. Taking the mound tonight for Baker is Gio Gonzalez (5-1, 2.91 ERA), who while easy to get lost in the Nationals’ star-studded Rotation, has been busy this term reminding everyone that he’s still capable of being a very effective pitcher in his own right. While his 21-win season back in 2012 is a long ways in the rearview mirror (he’s won just forty-three games from 2013 to 2016), the veteran Lefthander has settled in quite nicely behind his more heralded teammates such as Stephen Strasburg and Max Sherzer. And to be completely honest, Gonzalez should for all intents and purposes be enjoying an even better record than the 5-1 mark he currently holds, if not for some truly dismal performances from the Bullpen; only three of his previous eight starts have featured him earning a decision, with Washington going on to lose five of those outings. Again, you can’t blame this guy for that run of misfortune, for the 31-year old has eased towards the midway point of the campaign with a stellar 2.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 8.3 Strikeouts per Nine Innings. Just look at what he did to the Rangers’ powerful lineup last Saturday; Gonzalez retired all but one of the twenty-one batters he faced, racking up nine strikeouts with one lone walk, while yielding one run on three hits over the course of six innings. However, once again the Bullpen blew it; despite leaving his team with a 3-1 lead, Texas exploded for five runs before taking the lead in the Eleventh Inning, tagging the Nats’ Relievers for five runs on five hits, including a pair of home runs. He last faced tonight’s opponent, the Mets, back on April 22nd, yielding one earned run on just three hits in 6.1 innings of labor.
Meanwhile, if the Mets (30-34, 2nd in NL East) plan on making a comeback in the East then now would sure as hell seem like the opportune time to do so. Trailing by 8.5 games in the division, this four-game set with the Nationals could potentially cut that lead in half as we head towards the All-Star Break. Winners of five of their last six outings, Terry Collins’ charges may have just found a way of righting the ship, which is totally possible given the arms at his disposal in the Rotation (though we’ll talk about them more in a moment). After getting embarrassed 13-4 by the Cubs on Tuesday, the Mets rebounded nicely to take the series with a 9-4 victory over the reigning World Series Champions. Chicago jumped out to an early two-run lead, but the home side got stronger as the game progressed blowing the doors off their opponents’ Bullpen, scoring five runs in the Eighth Inning. Curtis Granderson (.215 BA, 14 2B, 2 HR, 23 RBI) and Lucas Duda (.252 BA, 10 2B, 12 HR, 26 RBI) each went yard in the Eighth, with TJ Rivera (.271 BA, 7 2B, 2 HR, 14 RBI) piling it on with an RBI Single to round things out. The much maligned Matt Harvey () made the start for Collins and Co., and didn’t last very long, allowing four earned runs on as many hits in just four innings of play, including a staggering three home runs. Thankfully, the quartet of Paul Sewald, Fernando Salas, Jerry Blevins (who registered the victory), and Addison Reed cleaned up the mess permitting zero runs on five hits over the final five innings, striking out six Cubs and walking none. Taking the mound for Collins tonight is Steven Matz (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who has successfully rejoined the Rotation after the youngster made his way back from an elbow injury. Hopefully, the third-year hurler can bring some power to a group of arms that initially didn’t appear to need any bolstering, but after injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued this unit, Collins will take any help he can get. So in his first start of the campaign, Matz put together a fairly stellar performance at division rival Atlanta; the Lefthander retired twenty-six of the twenty-seven batters faced, allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings of work, before the Bullpen sealed off the 8-1 blowout. Despite striking out only two Braves, there was plenty to like about his 2017 debut, as the 26-year old kept his pitch total low (he needed just ninety-eight pitches), with sixty-seven of that total going down as strikes. Now we’ll get to see just far this kid has progressed, for tonight’s meeting with Nationals figures to be a significant step-up in class for the Lefty. Matz has faced Washington just twice, earning a 1-1 record, while permitting just three runs on ten hits in fifteen innings of action, racking up a dozen strikeouts in comparison to five walks. If New York are indeed going to make a run at the NL East Champions, then this kid figures to play a larger role moving forward.