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Nationals vs. Mets Series Preview: Nats and Mets play role reversal with New York off to hot start

The Washington Nationals have to be worried about the division-rival New York Mets’ fast start to the 2018 campaign.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Mets Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals (7-9) vs. Mets (12-2) series info:

Game 1: Monday, April 16 at 7:10 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Tuesday, April 17 at 7:10 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7)

Game 3: Wednesday, April 18 at 7:10 p.m. EST (MASN/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Monday: Jeremy Hellickson (2018 debut) vs. Jacob deGrom (2-0, 3.06)

Tuesday: Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 2.20) vs. Zack Wheeler (1-0, 1.29)

Wednesday: Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.50) vs. Steven Matz (1-1, 3.77)

What to watch for:

Jeremy Hellickson makes Nats debut

Rumored all winter to be poking around in the starting pitcher free-agent market, the Nationals ultimately decided to sign Hellickson to a minor-league deal as insurance in case A.J. Cole couldn’t hold down the No. 5 spot. After a nightmarish, 10-run season debut, Cole bounced back to allow two runs over 5 13 innings. However, the front office decided to forego Cole’s third start and call up Hellickson to pitch in his place.

Give Bryce Harper some protection

The Nats’ right fielder has played all 16 games this season batting third, but the rest of the lineup behind him has done little to take advantage of his hot start. Washington’s cleanup hitters have an MLB-worst .474 OPS, led by Ryan Zimmerman and his .098/.159/.171 slash line in the spot. Daniel Murphy just flew down to Florida for extended Spring Training — the team’s only real solace in this situation.

Runs may be tough to come by in Queens

Your MLB leaders in team ERA are none other than the New York Mets. The “if-they’re-healthy” narrative appears to be put to rest for now, as the rotation has been nothing short of fantastic. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are a legitimate 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation and Zack Wheeler tossed seven innings of one-run ball in his 2018 debut. Even the bullpen has been clicking on all cylinders — of the seven relievers on New York’s active roster, these are their ERAs: 2.57, 1.69, 1.13, 1.08, 0.00, 0.00, 0.00.

Series history:

The Nationals lead the all-time series with the Mets (2005-present) by a margin of 130-113, including a .615 winning percentage on the road. Washington was swept by New York earlier this month, however, marking its first series loss to the Mets since April 28-30 last season.