In spite of how badly the 2014 postseason ended for the Washington Nationals, losing in four games to the Giants in the Division Series, the experts throughout spring training considered them the favorite to reach the World Series. Only briefly during the season has their play justified those early predictions. Max Scherzer earned National League Pitcher of the Month in both May and June. They reached first place in mid-May, after being as much as 8 games behind early on. But they have faltered as the summer has progressed. In spite of his two exceptional months, Scherzer only has an 11-11 record to show for the season. Jordan Zimmerman is 12-8, Stephen Strasburg is 8-6, hardly Clayton Kershaw or Zach Greinke numbers.
Meanwhile the Mets, who have been awful since 2009 got off to a hot start, then after a struggle through the summer have built a lead of 4 games as we approach the start of a pivotal 3-game series at Washington.
If Washington plans to catch the Mets, they have the man on the mound to begin the process, and the matchup is as favorable as it can be. Max Scherzer has fired a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts and a no-hitter earlier this year. Mets lefthander Jonathan Niese has to count himself lucky to have a spot in a talent-laden rotation like the Mets. His last 3 starts, all against cellar dwelling teams have resulted in at least 5 runs against his record.
Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games, on paper at least look like excellent pitching matchups that could go either way. Tuesday the Mets’ controversial star Matt Harvey has something to prove as he faces Jordan Zimmerman. He needs to show the toughness of the man who wanted to pitch at the end of 2014, not the timidity of the man who this weekend hinted he might have pitched too many innings to be available for the playoffs. Wednesday, last year’s Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom faces Stephen Strasburg. The man from whom so much was expected coming out of college has an 8-6 record and a 4.35 ERA, hardly what the Nats might have hoped for when the year began. But a sweep in this series would put the Nats just a game behind the Mets.
After years of futility, the question is can Terry Collins’ team hold the lead they’ve built against a team that made the playoffs in 2012 and 2014? The next 3 games will go a long way toward answering that question. After this series, both teams face the Braves, Phillies and Marlins-arguably the 3 Stooges of baseball. Had I not been rescued in March from a hospital in South Carolina and moved to a hospital here in New Jersey, I would have been sentenced to a summer of watching the Braves. Talk about a fate worse than death!
The one disadvantage the Mets have is their interleague series. While the Nats face the Orioles, (talk about a bird with a broken wing,) the Mets have to face the possible playoff team the Yankees. While the O’s focus on what they plan to do next winter and who their manager might be in 2016, the Yankees will be playing every game to the hilt, so they insure they can get into postseason games without buying tickets. By the time the Mets and Nats meet again the first weekend of October, presumably the divisional race will be settled. The next 3 games, particularly if Washington wins all 3, will set the stage for a memorable autumn. Both cities have dreadful football teams, so whichever baseball team plays the longest into the fall gives their fans a needed reprieve.
Other Holiday Games
If the Mets and Nationals aren’t your choice for TV watching during your Labor Day picnic, MLB offers a couple of other matchups featuring playoff certainties and hopefuls. The Cardinals take the best record in baseball into an afternoon game with the Cubs, who figure to face the Pirates in the wild card game next month if nothing drastic changes. Later in the evening, the Twins open a series against the Royals, while the last game tonight features one of the best pitchers in the game. The Dodgers send Zach Greinke with his 15-3 record against the Angels’ Nick Tropeano. The beauty of this great game is, if Greinke happens to have an off night, and Nick is on his game, Tropeano, a kid from Long Island could have a game to tell his grandchildren about. That’s just baseball-as I see it.0