Just over a month into the season, however, both clubs are right on the heels of the three-time defending division champion Phillies.
Two of the biggest surprises in the league open a three-game series Monday at Citi Field, with New York trying to bounce back from its first home loss in 2 1/2 weeks and Washington looking to move four games over .500 for the first time in nearly five years.
The Mets (17-14) and Nationals (17-14) were two of the worst teams in the NL last season, with New York losing 92 games and Washington suffering a major league-worst 103 defeats. The clubs finished a combined 57 games back of the Phillies but are surprisingly each just two behind the reigning NL champs.
New York has won 15 of 23 with most of that success coming at Citi Field.
The Mets had a nine-game home winning streak end with a 6-5 loss to San Francisco on Sunday. They dropped two of three to the Nationals at Citi Field from April 9-11.
The Nationals arrive in New York after beating Florida 3-2 on Sunday to secure their sixth series victory, something they didn’t accomplish last season until July 5.
Josh Willingham(notes) homered in the eighth inning to break a 2-all tie and help Washington move three games above .500 for the second time this year. The Nationals haven’t been four games over the break-even mark since they were 77-73 on Sept. 19, 2005.
Willingham, who homered in his second straight game, was 4 for 9 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs against the Mets last month. He’s 2 for 10 with a homer against scheduled starter John Maine(notes) (1-1, 5.97 ERA).
Maine got off to a rough start, going 0-1 with a 10.38 ERA in his first three outings, but he’s 1-0 with a 2.30 ERA in his last three. The right-hander didn’t receive a decision after allowing two runs and four hits with six strikeouts in six innings of a 5-4 win against Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Maine is 5-1 with a 3.03 ERA in six starts against the Nationals since 2008, posting a 0.82 ERA in winning both outings at Citi Field. His eight career victories versus Washington are his most against any opponent.
After posting a 2.25 ERA in winning his first two starts, Atilano yielded six runs, seven hits and five walks in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-6, 10-inning loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. The right-hander said he was a little nervous about facing the Braves, who traded him to the Nationals in 2006.