The New York Mets travel to the nation's capital for a crucial three-game series against the NL East-leading Washington Nationals. It might be the dog days of summer, but neither team can afford to have a lackluster showing in this series.
After getting swept by the Atlanta Braves, the Mets must right the ship quickly if they plan on keeping pace in the division. The team wasn't expected to contend when the season started, but some clutch hitting has kept it within striking distance.
The next few weeks will be key.
On the other side, it was clear the Nationals were ready to take the next step toward the postseason, but not many people thought they were capable of running away with the NL East. They currently hold a three-game lead and have a chance to do exactly that.
It should be a great series between division rivals with a lot to play for. Here's a look at the key information for Game 1, a preview of what to watch throughout the series and a prediction for Tuesday's clash.
When: Tuesday, July 17 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Where: Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Watch: SNY (New York) and MASN (Washington)
Live Stream: MLB.tv
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Mets: Lucas Duda (questionable, hamstring), Jason Bay (questionable, concussion), Dillon Gee (out, shoulder) and Frank Francisco (out, oblique)
Nationals: Ian Desmond (questionable, oblique), Drew Storen (rehab, elbow), Chien-Ming Wang (rehab, hip) and Jayson Werth (out, wrist)
Starting for New York: Jonathon Niese
Niese is slowly, but surely, developing into the front-end starter the Mets were hoping for when they made him a full-time member of the rotation in 2010. He's always had the stuff but has really taken the next step by going deeper into games.
The 25-year-old lefty currently sports a 3.73 ERA, which is nearly a half run lower than any other season in his career. It would be even lower if not for some trouble keeping the ball in the park. He still has room for improvement in that area.
Niese has always had success against Washington. In four career starts, he's 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA. The Mets will need another strong performance from him on Tuesday if they plan on ending their losing streak and putting a series win within reach.
Chris Young and R.A. Dickey are scheduled to pitch Games 2 and 3.
Starting for Washington: Ross Detwiler
The results have been mixed since Detwiler returned to the rotation prior to the All-Star break. The Nationals have won two of his three starts, but he hasn't pitched particularly well, giving up seven earned runs in his last two outings.
Detwiler would fall under the category of a crafty lefty. He doesn't have a dominant strikeout pitch, limiting his margin for error. That said, he's capable of shutting down any offense when he's commanding his pitches to both sides of the plate.
He did have one of his best starts of the season against the Mets. All the way back in April, he pitched five shutout innings while giving up just two hits and striking out seven. That's no surprise, because the Mets have so many left-handed hitters in the lineup.
Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez are scheduled to pitch Games 2 and 3.
Mets Fantasy Studs
After a down season that left the Mets wondering if Wright was truly a franchise cornerstone, the third baseman has bounced back in a major way. He's near the top of the league with a .345 batting average to go along with 11 home runs and 59 runs batted in.
Making him an even more valuable fantasy asset is his ability to steal bases. That type of all-around production means he'll rarely have an off week. He should have no problem remaining one of the top players at the hot corner for the rest of the season.
Duda is dealing with a nagging hamstring issue, but the Mets offense can't afford for him to miss an extended period of time. The lineup doesn't have enough depth, and he's one of the few players on the roster capable of changing the game with one swing.
The outfielder has a career-high 12 home runs through 85 games, which is solid production from a player most owners plucked from the waiver wire to serve as a third outfielder or utility player.
As long as he stays healthy, he should top the 20-home run mark.
Nationals Fantasy Studs
Desmond has always showcased a lot of potential, but it appears he's finally put everything together at the plate. His massive improvement is one of the biggest reasons the Nationals are currently the top team in the National League.
He's hitting .287 with 17 home runs, 13 stolen bases and a .828 OPS. Not only has that been key for Washington, but also fantasy teams. Getting that type of production from a traditionally weak fantasy position is a huge advantage.
Although Harper's numbers haven't been on the same level as Los Angeles Angels phenom Mike Trout, they are still very good for a 19-year-old rookie. The hyped prospect has 11 stolen bases and eight home runs, becoming an integral part of the Nationals offense.
There was some concern when he first came up that it was only a short-term fix, but that clearly hasn't been the case. Harper should continue to improve as he becomes more comfortable facing major league pitching, which makes him a good fantasy piece to own.
Game 1 Prediction
Mets 5, Nationals 4