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Washington Nationals return to Citi Field, where they hit rock bottom in May; and lose a tough one...

Washington’s Nationals have dropped five straight in Citi Field after last night’s brutal 7-6 loss to the New York Mets.

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Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Washington’s Nationals were swept by the Mets in a four-game set during their last visit to Citi Field before this weekend’s three-game series with their NL East rivals from New York.

Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle told USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale, in a recent feature on how the Nats turned things around after a disappointing start to the 2019 campaign, that they hit rock bottom before getting healthy and finally starting to play like they knew they could.

“Here we were at rock bottom, you’re wondering how long we’re all going to be around, and we’re telling ourselves it can’t get any worse than this. And now coming out of it and looking like this. It’s crazy how quickly it turned.

Even after the fourth loss in that series, which left the Nationals 12 games under .500 at 19-31, the Nats’ second-year skipper Davey Martinez said he was confident in his club’s ability.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Thing are going to change. And I know that.

“We’ve just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball, there’s good players in that clubhouse, really good players, and we’ll turn things around.”

They did. Heading into their first series in the Mets’ home since May, the Nationals were 42-22 in their last 64 and 61-53 overall on the season, 5.5 back in second place in the NL East, and +2.0 game up in the National League’s Wild Card race.

“We talk about it all the time,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr before the start of last night’s game.

“We got healthy. The big key is we got healthy, the bullpen started pitching better.

“We always knew the starting pitching we had could keep us in games and just started playing overall good baseball.”

“When things were going bad we tried to stay positive, throughout the whole mess,” the second-year skipper said, “... told the boys there will be no pointing fingers, this thing will turn around, but we’ve got to believe in ourselves, and when it did [turn around], then it really became fun. I’m proud of the guys and what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve done.”

“It’s not done yet,” he added, “and they understand that, so they go out there every day and they play hard.”

Going up against the Mets again, however, the Nationals were facing a team that had won six straight and 13 of 14 to get themselves back into postseason race as well, 8.0 out in the division, and a 0.5 game behind Milwaukee’s Brewers, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot.

“It’s important for us to play Washington Nationals baseball,” Martinez told reporters before the series opener in Citi Field.

“That’s what we focus on. The Mets are playing well. We’re playing well. Our focus is on us, and let’s continue to play well.”

“They’re playing great,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Friday morning.

“That pitching staff they have always gives them a chance to win each and every day. Their rotation is great. They’ve got some good young hitters there, and they’re playing good, inspired baseball. I often say it’s not who you play, it’s when you play them and we’re getting the Mets when they’re really, really hot and it will be a fun weekend here in New York.”

The Mets’ hot-streak continued in the series opener, with the home team rallying from a 6-3 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, putting four runs up Doolittle and walking off with a win.

With the Nationals’ loss, and a Braves’ win, Martinez’s squad fell to 6.5 back in the East, and their lead in the National League Wild Card race was down to 1.0 game, with the Milwaukee Brewers in the second spot, and St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets, and the Philadelphia Phillies 0.5 back.

“It’s unfortunate, and it stings a little bit,” Martinez said of the loss, “but we’ve got another game tomorrow, and I absolutely love the way the guys played. I mean, we played good defense, they ran the bases well, came up with some clutch hits. We did everything right until the ninth inning, so just got to keep pounding. Like I’ve told them before, hey, we come back tomorrow, we go 1-0, and move on.”