With a lengthy disabled list, a punchless offense and 14 losses in their last 20 games, the New York Mets may feel like their problems are more severe than any other club’s woes.
The Washington Nationals may beg to differ.
A trip to the nation’s capital presents as good a chance as any for the tumbling Mets to turn things around, while the Nationals will be trying to avoid a sixth straight loss when the teams open their three-game series Monday.
Sunday’s 7-1 loss - the Mets’ third in four games in Atlanta coming out of the All-Star break - was the ninth time in the last 20 games that they’ve scored one or zero runs.
Gary Sheffield(notes) missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury, and the Mets (43-48) had to use their bullpen for eight innings after starter Fernando Nieve(notes) left the game with a quadriceps strain.
“It’s tough to take at this point, especially in that area, pitching,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “We need to stay competitive there.”
“Where do we go from here?” Manuel added. “We have to sit down and make some decisions. We talked about that today. We feel like we still can get some things done.”
The fourth-place Mets face an uphill climb, having slipped nine games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East. They haven’t been more than nine games back in the division since the 2005 season.
Their deficit pales in comparison, however, to the 26-game margin between the Phillies and Washington. The Nationals (26-65) have eight more losses than any other team in the majors, and they’ve dropped 10 of their last 11.
The last four came at home to the Chicago Cubs to open the season’s second half, capped by Sunday’s 11-3 defeat. Nationals pitchers gave up 16 hits as their team ERA swelled to an NL-worst 5.18.
“Today was a step backward. It was a breakdown all the way around,” said interim manager Jim Riggleman, who’s still looking for his first win since taking over for Manny Acta during the break.
With Scott Olsen(notes) back on the disabled list, Washington’s beleaguered staff will turn to another rookie as 26-year-old J.D. Martin makes his major league debut. The right-hander was a first-round pick of Cleveland in 2001, but his career has been derailed by injuries.
The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract in the offseason, and he has gone 8-3 with a 2.66 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse.
“He’s not an overpowering guy, but he’s a professional pitcher and he’s earned the right to get up here and see if he can do it against major league hitters,” Riggleman told the Nationals’ official Web site.
The Mets will counter with Livan Hernandez(notes), who has lost his last four outings and not won since June 7. Hernandez (5-5, 5.10 ERA) has been ineffective in his last two starts, allowing a combined 15 runs, 21 hits and eight walks in seven innings.
Hernandez, though, is 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA against the Nationals this year, and he’s won each of his last seven starts against them for four different teams dating back to Sept. 13, 2006.