It's taken for granted that the N.L. East should come down between last year's National League champion New York Mets and the Washington Nationals. The teams renewed their rivalry on Tuesday night, becoming the last divisional opponents in the majors to face each other this season.
Billed as a pitchers' duel, it didn't disappoint. Max Scherzer, coming off his MLB record-tying 20-strikeout masterpiece, and Noah Syndergaard combined for 20 strikeouts and just two runs against -- both on solo homers against Scherzer -- and the Mets took the first of the three-game set 2-0 at Citi Field in Queens, New York.
Syndergaard lived up to the billing in the first, recording a 1-2-3 inning. But Scherzer was bit by the home run ball again, as Curtis Granderson hit Scherzer's first offering -- a center-cut fastball -- just over the wall in right for Scherzer's 12th homer allowed on the season.
The Nats' starter issued a four-pitch walk to Michael Conforto and then hit Yoenis Cespedes, but escaped with no more damage after Daniel Murphy, making his return to Citi Field for the first time, made a nice sliding stop on Eric Campbell's grounder to end the threat.
In the second, Ryan Zimmerman drilled a one-out double to the left-center wall and Anthony Rendon -- hitting sixth for the first time this season -- followed with a single to put runners on the corners. But Syndergaard coaxed a grounder to second from Wilson Ramos for an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Scherzer bounced back in the second to retire the side in order, striking out third baseman Matt Reynolds -- making his MLB debut -- to end the inning, recording his fourth strikeout of the outing.
Scherzer issued another walk, this time to Granderson, to start the third, but a 3-6-1 twin killing erased the runner. It was a good thing, as the next batter -- Michael Conforto, homered to the same spot Granderson did in the first inning to make it 2-0.
Meanwhile, Syndergaard was mowing down the Nats, retiring nine of ten, with Murphy's bloop single in the fourth the only mark against his record.
With two down in the fifth, Scherzer missed with a 3-2 fastball upstairs and walked Granderson again, but he got Cabrera to fly out to center, ending the fifth at 79 pitches and seven strikeouts.
In the sixth, Ben Revere slashed a single through the hole to the left side with one out, then tried to steal. Upon review, Revere appeared to be safe, but review upheld the call. The next batter, Jayson Werth, singled, but Bryce Harper struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt.
The Nats has a couple of hard-hit balls in the seventh -- but right at fielders -- and Syndergaard escaped the frame with a shutout intact and 10 strikeouts.
The Mets' righty was done. He gave up five hits and no walks in seven innings, lowering his season ERA to 2.19.
In the seventh, Scherzer struck out Eric Campbell for his 10th of the game, making 30 Ks in his last two games, tying Corey Kluber for the record among active pitchers in consecutive games. The MLB record is 33, as Kerry Wood followed up his 20-K performance with 13 strikeouts in his next appearance. Kevin Plawecki then singled to left on Scherzer's 98th pitch, and Dusty Baker came out with the hook.
Scherzer went 6 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on two solo homers, three hits total, three walks and 10 Ks.
Oliver Perez took over and struck out lefty Alejandro de Aza and got Reynolds to ground to third to end the inning.
But the Nats could get nothing going against relievers Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia either, and lost round one to the defending division champs.
WP: Syndergaard (4-2, 2.19) LP: Scherzer (4-3, 4.01) SV: Familia (13) HR: Granderson (7), Conforto (6) E: None.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. from Citi Field. Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.93) faces Bartolo Colon (3-2, 3.53).
- New York started this series on a four-game losing streak, but that was part of an 11-game road trip, on which they were 4-7. At home in Citi Field this season, the Mets started the night 9-6.
- Washington started the night 11-8 on the road this season with a 14-6 record in Citi Field since the start of the 2014 campaign.
- In today's Nationals-themed "Fun with Arbitrary End Points Segment", Washington is 23-15 against New York, since the start of the 2014 campaign. Before that, they were split evenly at 82-82 against one another.
- New York was 11-8 against Washington last season with eight wins in the last eleven games they played and a 5-5 record at home in Citi Field.
- New York's pitching staff starts the night with the third-lowest ERA in the majors at 3.09 after 37 games.
- New York's bullpen leads the NL and ranks second in the majors with a combined 2.44 ERA among their relievers.
- The Mets were 1-2 in four outings against Max Scherzer last season, in which the right-hander had a 1.82 ERA. Scherzer was 3-2 in eight games, seven of them starts against New York in his career, with a 2.23 ERA in 48 ⅓ IP.
- Noah Syndergaard started the night 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three career starts vs the Nationals, over which he has walked six and struck out 23 in 20 IP.
- Mets' hitters have a combined 53 home runs through 37 games this season. They didn't reach 53 home runs until 62 games into the 2015 season.
- Former Met Daniel Murphy started his first series in Citi Field as a visitor with 19 multi-hit games on the year for the Nationals in his first 37 games played after signing as a free agent this winter.
- Murphy also started the series leading the majors in AVG (.400) and hits (56) and multi-hit games (19).
- Bryce Harper started the night with a 10-game walk-streak going, leaving him one game with a walk away from tying the franchise record set by Expos' outfielder Peter Bergeron in 2002.