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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Three-game series against free-falling New York Mets

Things may not be going well for the Nationals, but they expected some lumps after their sell-off. The Mets, however, are in free fall and now sit 3rd in the NL East...

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Just because the Washington Nationals sold at the trade deadline, and are heading toward their first 162-game losing season since 2010, doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to watch out for in the remaining 50 games of the season. Honestly!

For starters, plenty of the new young talents on the team have begun to impress.

Take Saturday, for example. Josiah Gray, acquired in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner trade, dazzled in five innings of work, striking out 10 batters and generating 20 swings-and-misses in the start, 12 of those coming on his hard curveball. His stuff looked electric.

Then in the ninth inning, young catcher, Riley Adams, who was acquired in the Brad Hand trade, launched a towering go-ahead home run with the Nationals down to their final out to eventually win the game, 3-2. The long ball was his first hit as a National and first big league homer.

There are plenty of other examples throughout the weekend, but despite the fact that the Nats lost the series, there’s still plenty to learn and get excited by in a lost season.

Another one of the little things that will motivate the Nationals and be interesting to watch is if they can play spoiler for some of their division rivals in the final two months, with a prime opportunity to do just that presenting itself in this three-game series with the New York Mets.

Until their recent three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets were sitting pretty atop the National League East. Now, after a sweep at Citizens Bank Park, they dropped down to third in the division and are reeling have lost 12 of their last 17 games.

Even if the Nats can’t win the division themselves, they’ll still have a huge say on who does.

Here’s the lowdown from Citi Field ahead of the three-game midweek series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, August 9th, 7:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, August 10th, 7:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, August 11th, 12:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Paolo Espino (3-3, 3.36 ERA) vs Carlos Carrasco (0-0, 3.24 ERA)
  • Game Two: Joe Ross (5-9, 4.02 ERA) vs Rich Hill (6-4, 3.92 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (4-8, 5.15 ERA) vs Marcus Stroman (7-11, 2.83 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Carter Kieboom: Just two series ago, I included Kieboom in the who’s not section of the series previews, with a pretty lackluster batting average and power output to that point.

Obviously, just when you write about how poorly someone has been doing, they turn things around and start hitting again. That’s the life of anyone who writes about sports.

In the 10 games since the trade deadline that have given him an extended chance at the big league level to prove he can be a part of this team’s future, Kieboom is slashing .314/.390/.514 with a pair of home runs and seven RBIs, giving him an excellent 139 wRC+ in that span.

Some fans were prepared to write off Kieboom after subpar spells in the big leagues in 2019 and 2020, but he’s starting to prove that sometimes it takes a little time to get your feet wet at the highest level to have some sort of success. Now, the task for him is to sustain it.

Brandon Drury: If you’ve seen any commentary on the Mets and their recent cold streak, it will come as no surprise to you that their main problem right now is a lethargic offense.

Since July 24th, the team is just 5-12 and the offense has lacked consistent producers. Only two players have a wRC+ above 150 in that time, Jeff McNeil and Drury, who has been a nice surprise for the Mets initially off the bench, but is now earning more playing time.

In those 17 games, Drury is slashing an absurd .520/.556/.960 with a pair of home runs and seven RBIs in 27 plate appearances, good for an equally as absurd 303 wRC+.

Though most of those plate appearances have come as a pinch-hitter, he was exceptionally valuable in that role, at one point, racking up base hits in four-straight pinch-hit appearances.

With the likes of Michael Conforto and Dom Smith not looking like themselves at the plate lately, Drury could sneak another start or two at a corner outfield spot in this three-game series given the way he’s swung the bat and the Mets’ desperation for any offense.

Who’s not?

Gerardo Parra: It’s fair to say that the Nationals haven’t had the same Baby Shark magic that they were able to ride all the way to a World Series title in 2019. Yet, even after the sell-off during a lost season and a clear focus on the future, Parra remains on the team.

Playing in nine games since the trade deadline, including three starts in the outfield, Parra is slashing a lackluster .133/.188/.133 and has an ugly 43.8% strikeout rate, nearly double anyone else on the team in that time.

There’s something to be said for keeping at least some veteran presences in a clubhouse that is suddenly injected with youth. However, with a few outfielders in the organization now who could be using this time to get comfortable at the major league level, it’s fair to wonder whether Parra is worth his roster spot, especially given his struggles at the plate.

Pete Alonso: While the Home Run Derby helped Juan Soto find his swing, the same can’t quite be said for the eventual champion in Alonso. After a quick burst of five home runs in his first nine games out of the break, it’s been miserable since for the first baseman.

Since July 26th, Alonso is slashing a pedestrian .132/.270/.264 with two home runs in 63 plate appearances, good for just a 54 wRC+ in that span. He’s also hitless in his last 19 at-bats since August 3rd and has just two hits in the month altogether.

Maybe this is just asking for trouble, as the Nationals are a team that Alonso has fared exceptionally well against, sporting an MVP-like .338/.420/.723 slash line and 197 wRC+ against Washington in his young major league career.

If the Mets are going to get going again, they’re going to need Alonso to get out of his funk.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Mets storylines from our friends at Amazin’ Avenue...

One more thing to watch

As the trade deadline got most of the headlines in the last two weeks, it’s easy to forget how the team went through a COVID outbreak a couple of days beforehand that resulted in 12 positive tests among players and coaches.

A couple of those players, Trea Turner and Daniel Hudson, have since been dealt away, leaving Alex Avila and Austin Voth as the two remaining players on the COVID IL as well as 10 coaches, including Bob Henley, Tim Bogar, Jim Hickey, and Randy Knorr.

Thankfully, none of those that tested positive had anything more than mild symptoms, manager Dave Martinez explained after the team’s game was postponed in Philadelphia.

After a long two weeks for those who tested positive, the Nationals will finally get their coaching staff back this week after they were all cleared to return on Sunday, and they met up with the team in New York yesterday ahead of this three-game series.

On the player front, neither Voth nor Avila appears set to be activated for the series opener, with the former now needing to build his arm back up again after the enforced layoff.

“Austin is going to go to Florida,” Martinez explained on Sunday. “He’s going to start working out there... but Austin needs to get going again and start throwing.

“He hasn’t really done much due to the COVID protocols, so we’ll get him going and try to get him back here as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, it looks like Avila will be put back onto the 10-day IL with the calf issue that he was attempting to come back from before being placed on the COVID IL.

“Alex Avila will meet us hopefully next week in either New York or meet us back at home,” Martinez said. “Once he’s cleared he’s going to come back, he hasn’t ran or anything, and still has that calf injury, so we want to get him back here.

“They’re going to test him and see where he’s at, and hopefully try to get him to where he can start running here soon.”

While the two players still have work to do before they can return to the big league club, expect to see some familiar faces on the coaching staff again in this series against the Mets.