Washington started their four-game, long-weekend series against the New York Mets 4-2 against their divisional rivals this season, with three of their four wins in Citi Field.
Dusty Baker’s squad arrived in Flushing, Queens, NY coming off a less-than-impressive 2-5 homestand that followed a 7-2 road trip through San Francisco, Oakland, and LA.
Baker talked to reporters after a series-ending loss to Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon about getting back out on the road where the Nationals were (21-12, .635) early this season, good for the second best road record in the National League, behind only the Colorado Rockies (25-13, .658).
“Maybe we’ll have to just go back on the road and get our act together, because, you know, we’re one of the best road teams around,” Baker said.
Over the course of the Nats’ recently-completed homestand, their lead in the division dropped from 11.5 games to 8.5 heading into the series in New York, with the Mets 6-2 in their last eight in spite of all the injury issues skipper Terry Collins’ squad has dealt with two and a half months in.
Baker was asked for his thoughts on the Mets before last night’s game, since the teams hadn’t played one another since late April.
“They’re about the same club, but they’re a little banged up,” Baker said.
“We’re a little tired and they’re banged up. So it should be a heck of a series. You know they’re going to try to get back in the race in these four games and we’re going to try to extend our lead these four games, so it should be a good four games.”
He also predicted that there would be a lot of power on display in Citi Field.
“They depend on the home run, and we depend on the home run also, but probably not as much as they do.”
The Nationals’ 98 home runs heading into the series were the most among National League teams.
The Mets were second with 94 total, with 25 in their last 12 games, and 39 in their last 23 games.
Bryce Harper hit his 17th and the Nationals’ 99th in the top of the first inning on Thursday night, taking a 3-1 sinker from Robert Gsellman that didn’t sink out to right field on a line for a 1-0 lead early.
Washington added a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth to jump out to a 5-1 lead in the series opener.
Michael A. Taylor hit the Nationals’ 100th home run of the season with two out in the fifth to put the Nationals up 7-1.
With a big lead in the division early in the season, which was up to 9.5 after what ended up an 8-3 win, a reporter asked Baker before the game if he thought there would be any issues with the Nationals playing with an edge and staying motivated throughout the rest of the regular season schedule if they ran away with the NL East?
“You keep an edge by taking pride in winning and playing,” the veteran skipper said.
“That’s what it boils down to. The lead doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the pride to win and if you don’t feel — no matter what your lead is — if you don’t feel badly after a loss then you shouldn’t be in this business.
“So it’s not about the lead, it’s about us trying to play up to our capabilities on a daily [basis].”
After a rough homestand, the NL East-leading Nationals looked more like a first place team in last night’s win.