Mets-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Nationals have dominated the New York Mets of late, and maintaining that success could go a long way toward claiming another NL East title.

The Nationals attempt to solve Zack Wheeler again in order to open this three-game set by beating the visiting Mets for the 11th time in 12 meetings Tuesday night.

Washington (60-50) leads the division by three games over the second-place Braves, and it should feel good about its chances at widening that gap before opening a three-game set at Atlanta on Friday.

The Nationals have won 10 of 11 games against New York (53-59), batting .296 with 20 homers and averaging 6.0 runs while compiling a 2.70 ERA.

They have four series remaining against the Mets totaling 13 games - the most between any two teams in the majors the rest of the way. Washington visits New York for three games next week following its stay in Atlanta.

The Nationals, though, are 2-3 on this eight-game homestand after falling 7-3 to Baltimore in a makeup game on Monday.

Now, they'll have to contend with Wheeler (6-8, 3.60 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA in his last six starts.

The right-hander labored through 112 pitches over 6 2-3 innings Wednesday, allowing two runs and scattering seven hits with two walks to earn an 11-2 win over Philadelphia.

"You saw a guy battle without his best command," manager Terry Collins said.

Continuing his recent dominance may be a challenge for Wheeler since he's 1-4 with a 4.75 ERA in five career starts against the Nationals.

He'll almost certainly need to be better than that if New York's offense struggles like it did in a wraparound series with San Francisco. The Mets hit .144 with eight runs while dropping three of four to the Giants, capped by Monday's 4-3 defeat.

Daniel Murphy and Juan Lagares, however, haven't been slumping. Murphy has hit .405 in his last nine games after connecting for a two-run shot for one of his two hits Monday, while Lagares went 3 for 4 with a double to give him a .440 average in his past seven.

The center fielder is batting .405 in 11 games at Washington, while Murphy is hitting .364 in his last 19 overall meetings.

They've combined to go 8 for 23 against Gio Gonzalez (6-7, 3.88).

Gonzalez is 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his last eight starts against New York. That blemish came in the most recent, as he gave up five runs and seven hits, including a two-run homer by Lagares, in three innings of a 5-2 defeat in the nation's capital May 17.

The left-hander hasn't been much better recently, going 0-3 with a 5.23 ERA in his last four starts. He was roughed up for five runs and eight hits while being pulled with two outs in the fourth of Thursday's 10-4 defeat to the Phillies.

"A lot of pitches right in the middle of the zone," catcher Wilson Ramos said. "That was a problem. A lot of pitches up in the zone, too."

Denard Span is on a tear with a .437 average in his last 18 games, but only two of his 31 hits have gone for extra bases. That hasn't been too much of an issue against the Mets, as he's hit .407 with six doubles, one triple and three homers with 15 runs in his last 15 meetings.

He's also 7 for 15 with a pair of doubles off Wheeler.

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