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Series Preview: Nationals and Mets start big three-game set in Washington, D.C.

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The Washington Nationals start this week's three-game set 4.0 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East, but they've got a five-game winning streak going as they meet up with their divisional rivals.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Washington's four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves in Nationals Park and their wins in five straight overall and seven of their last ten, over which the NL East-leading New York Mets are 5-5, left them 4.0 games back in the division before this week's three-game set, which starts today in the nation's capital.

So, Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked after Sunday's 8-4 win over the Braves, how did it feel to be 4.0 games back, closer to first place than they've been since August 20th, when they finished up a rough 2-8 trip through LA, San Francisco and Colorado?

"It feels like we've got a long way to go. Good series against the Braves. Guys swung the bats well. Pitched well. So we got these, now we've got a lot of work to do." -Matt Williams on sweeping Braves, preparing for the Mets

"It feels like we've got a long way to go," Williams told reporters. "Good series against the Braves. Guys swung the bats well. Pitched well. So we got these, now we've got a lot of work to do."

All of a sudden, the three games with New York this week have become a lot more interesting.

Through 13 games this season, the Nationals were 6-7 against the Mets, having been outscored 39-34, a year after they took 15 of 19 games from their divisional rivals, outscoring them by 43 runs in those contests (95-52).

At home this season, the Nationals were 3-3 against the Mets before today, having dropped two of three in the season-opening series and taken two of three in a mid-July matchup.

The last time they met before today, however, the Nationals dropped three straight on the road in Citi Field in a series which ended with the teams tied atop the division.

Williams was asked after yesterday's win if he was aware of the score in the Mets' series finale with Miami on Sunday as the Nationals wrapped up their sweep of the Braves.

The crowd in Nationals Park let out a big cheer when they saw that the Marlins had walked off with a win.

"I don't know," Williams said. "We were talking about pinch hitters. So I don't know, you hear the fans, of course, and know that something is up."

The Nationals are going strong heading into the series with the Mets.

Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman have turned things around at the plate (more on Zim in a minute), after starting slow as they worked their way back from their respective injuries and DL stints.

"I think that certainly the guys that have come back recently are getting their legs," Williams said.

"Jayson starts it, of course," he continued.

"Zim, Anthony getting their legs. They were out a long time and it takes some time for them to come back and feel rhythm and a sense of the strike zone, stroke, so I think they've all progressed and they feel good now."

Werth, who was moved to the top of the order recently and went 1 for 5 with a three-run home on Sunday, is 23 for 71 (.324 AVG) in seventeen games as the Nationals' leadoff hitter this season, with seven doubles, four home runs, eight walks and 16 runs scored atop the order.

"It's comfort. He's comfortable there," Williams said of the veteran outfielder's success in the role.

"They were out a long time and it takes some time for them to come back and feel rhythm and a sense of the strike zone, stroke, so I think they've all progressed and they feel good now." -Matt Williams on Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon

"He's comfortable three as well, but it gives him opportunity -- in the leadoff spot -- to see pitches and get into at bats. We all know about the number of pitches he sees within every at bat, or his average anyway, it's a lot of pitches, so it provides him opportunity in that spot. It certainly provides us with opportunities if the eight hitter is on and we have a good RBI guy at the top of the order, which he is. So, he understands how to hit, he understands knowledge of the strike zone as well, what he can and can't do."

Zimmerman sat out of the series finale with the Braves, but he had a 10-game hit streak going before Sunday over which he was 18 for 41 (.439 AVG) with four doubles and six home runs.

Williams said Zimmerman had a flare up of the plantar fasciitis issue with his left foot which landed him on the DL earlier this season.

"Foot is a little sore," Williams explained. "That's one of those things, we can't get him over that threshold to where it just won't go away. So a little sore after yesterday and gave him today.

"Stayed off him as much as we possibly could today which worked out and he'll be good to go tomorrow."

Michael Taylor returned to the lineup after missing a few games with a right knee issue which resulted from his collision with the center field wall in Nationals Park.

Taylor went 2 for 4 with a two-run double and two runs scored against the Braves.

"Big double. Early double for us, got us on the board," Williams said. "Just continues to play well. He's not 100%, but he's getting closer and closer, so didn't have any problems today banging it around diving back into a base, sliding into a base, so he's progressing well."

The big question heading into the series with the Mets is whether or not Stephen Strasburg will start in Wednesday's series finale.

Strasburg left his last start after four innings with an upper back issue, but he's thrown bullpens since and appears to be set to return to the rotation.

"He threw a heavy bullpen today," Williams said Sunday. "Not number of pitches, but he let it go and felt fine. So we'll see how he is tomorrow and make a decision from there, but he felt good throwing today."

Asked if he expected Strasburg to return, Williams said simply, "We do, yes."

Today it's Max Scherzer vs Jon Niese at 1:05 PM EDT in D.C. in the series opener of the three-game set. On Tuesday it's Matt Harvey vs Jordan Zimmermann. If Strasburg pitches on Wednesday, he'll match up against Jacob deGrom.

Scherzer sounded pumped up when he talked to reporters after his last start, explaining that the Nationals have a shot now and it's time to fight.

"It's September," Scherzer said. "I've been saying the whole time, 'Wait till September. Wait till September,' and here it is.

"Now it's time for us to answer the bell and go out there and do something. We have the opportunity right in front us."