5 things to watch for in Mets' three-game set in D.C. against Nationals

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Pete Alonso follows through on home run at Nationals Park June 2021
Pete Alonso follows through on home run at Nationals Park June 2021

At 20-10 the Mets roll into Washington, D.C. where the season began a month ago with them taking three of four games against the Nationals, and there are plenty of reasons to think they could win yet another series.

The Nationals, after all, are 10-20 with a minus-30 run differential, mostly because their pitching is dreadful, and they’ve actually played their worst at home this season where they are just 3-11.

Here, then, are five things to watch for in the series:

1) Mets Should Feast On Nationals’ Pitching

Stephen Strasburg is pitching simulated games in Florida, perhaps only a few weeks away from returning from last season’s thoracic outlet surgery, and that’s probably the best news for the Nationals at the moment, as their starting pitching is killing them. Their starters have a 5.59 ERA, which ranks 29th in the majors, ahead of only the hapless Cincinnati Reds.

In addition, the Mets miss Josiah Gray and Erick Fedde, the only Washington starters with ERAs under 4.00. As such they get Patrick Corbin (0-5, 7.16) Tuesday, then Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 8.56) on Wednesday, and rookie Joan Adon (1-5, 6.99) on Thursday.

2) Will The Mets Pitch Around Juan Soto?

A lot of teams have done just that so far, as Soto leads the NL with 24 walks. But Soto hasn’t delivered when pitched to in RBI situations, hitting .083 (2-for-24) with runners in scoring position this season. That, as much as lack of opportunity, explains why he has six home runs and only eight RBI.

Meanwhile, the Mets will need to consider that Josh Bell is swinging a hot bat hitting behind Soto in the No. 3 spot for the Nationals. For the season Bell is hitting .343 with a .971 OPS, and he’s got 21 RBI. Yet teams know how dangerous Soto is at the plate and while his overall numbers look OK, he hasn’t really gotten hot yet.

Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) rounds the bases after hitting a three run home run against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field.
Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) rounds the bases after hitting a three run home run against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field.

3) What Will Carlos Carrasco Do For An Encore?

Carrasco goes back to the mound for the first time since his brilliant eight scoreless innings against the Braves, more and more making last year’s injury-plagued season look like an aberration. Excluding his one bad start this season, in St. Louis against the Cardinals, Carrasco is pitching to a 1.02 ERA.

One possible concern: The two rainouts in Philadelphia plus the off-day Monday mean that Carrasco has two extra days of rest for his start against Nationals, and sometimes that messes with a pitcher’s routine and rhythm.

4) Pete Alonso Is Hot

Alonso carried the Mets to their win in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader with his two home runs and five RBI in Philadelphia, but beyond that he’s hitting .417 (10-for-24) over his last six games with two doubles and three home runs. For the season he’s hitting .276 with an .833 OPS and seven home runs.

In addition, while Alonso is hitting only .174 vs. left-handers this season, he has feasted on Corbin in the past. In his career Alonso is hitting .344 (11-for-32) vs. the Nats’ lefty with four home runs and two doubles. In the season opener in Washington, he singled in two ABs off Corbin.

5) Is Nelson Cruz Finished?

The Nationals signed Cruz for $15 million this season to take advantage of the DH being adopted by the NL, hoping he had another big year in him at age 41, but so far that looks like a bad gamble. Cruz is slashing .157/.250/.245 so far with three home runs and no other extra-base hits.

Cruz has been an automatic 30-plus home run guy forever, but he’ll turn 42 in July and perhaps age has caught up with him. If so, the Nats will have to get him out of the clean-up spot at some point, and there will be even more pressure on Soto (and right now Bell) to carry the offense.