Teams that are expecting to contend can’t afford too many losing homestands, particularly against subpar opponents.
The New York Mets, considered a favorite to win the NL East, find themselves in danger of losing a homestand for the first time this season when they conclude a four-game series with the last-place Washington Nationals on Thursday.
New York (20-18) has been a slight disappointment so far, finding itself two games behind upstart Florida in the NL East. A seven-game homestand against last-place teams gave the Mets an excellent opportunity to put together a run, but they have split the first six contests.
After winning two of three games against NL Central-worst Cincinnati, New York has dropped two of its first three against Washington (17-24). The Nationals trail the Marlins by 6 1/2 games in the NL East.
A loss Thursday would give the Mets their first losing homestand of the season.
New York went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position in a 5-3 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. The Mets played their third straight game without starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter Luis Castillo, who has a strained left quadriceps and could wind up on the disabled list.
Damion Easley started at second base for the Mets again Wednesday, going 0-for-3 after hitting his first home run of the season in a 6-3 win over the Nationals on Tuesday. Castillo said he probably won’t play Thursday, either.
“For me, if he’s not able to move around anytime soon, I think we’ll put him on the DL,” Mets manager Willie Randolph told the team’s official Web site. “That’s a last option, but we have to find out where he is physically.”
New York needs a healthy lineup considering the poor pitching it has received during this homestand. Mets pitchers have a 4.67 ERA during their last six games.
Now, New York will start Mike Pelfrey (2-3, 4.86 ERA), who had his best start of the season against Washington. He gave up five hits in seven innings as the Mets won 6-0 on April 15.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts against the Nationals.
Pelfrey pitched well in his last start, allowing two runs and eight hits in six innings as New York lost 7-1 to Cincinnati in the finale of a doubleheader Saturday. He is 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA in four starts at Shea Stadium this season.
Washington will counter with Jason Bergmann (0-1, 11.68), who is replacing an ineffective Mike O’Connor in the rotation. Bergmann was sent to Triple-A Columbus on April 12 after going 0-1 with an 11.68 ERA in his first three appearances.
The right-hander went 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts versus the Mets last season, and is 2-1 with a 3.96 ERA in three starts and six relief appearances against them.
The Nationals may need a strong day at the plate to get Bergmann a win. They came through when it mattered Wednesday, going 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Despite missing cleanup hitter Nick Johnson, Washington was able to reach five runs for just the second time in six games. Johnson traveled back to Washington for additional tests on his sore right wrist, which he injured late in Tuesday’s game.
Aaron Boone started at first base and batted in Johnson’s No. 4 spot.
I’m comfortable (at first base),” said Boone, who has played mostly second and third in his career. “I enjoy it. Hopefully, Nick’s deal won’t be long.”