NEW YORK -- Early in the season, a Mets-Nats series in late August looked like it might be meaningful baseball. Washington started the season as the favorite to claim the National League East, while the Mets flashed the signs of a contender when they opened with 11 wins in their
NEW YORK -- Early in the season, a Mets-Nats series in late August looked like it might be meaningful baseball. Washington started the season as the favorite to claim the National League East, while the Mets flashed the signs of a contender when they opened with 11 wins in their first 12 tries.
But things have changed. The Nationals didn't live up to their billing, and symbolically threw in the towel earlier this week by trading away Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams. And New York took a very bad turn after its very good start.
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The Mets, though, have been playing a bit better these days. They blanked Washington, 3-0, on Friday night at Citi Field primarily behind the work of Jason Vargas, who had been one of the problems after sustaining two injuries and experiencing a slew of inconsistent outings. The 35-year-old lefty brought a 3-8 record and a 7.67 ERA into this series opener.
But Vargas -- or "Vargy," as it read on the back of his jersey for this Players' Weekend -- has looked lately like the crafty guy who won 18 times for the Royals last season. The veteran has now turned in three straight strong starts, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. This one was his best of the season, as he delivered six innings of no-run, three-hit work. Vargas struck out a season-high eight and walked none along the way to his victory.
"I've been able to keep the ball down in the strike zone, for the most part," Vargas said. "And I think that usually leads to more success for me, being that I've got to throw my offspeed pitches down there, as well."
After spending a little more than a month on the disabled list due to a strained calf, Vargas returned on July 27 and has settled back into the rotation, making six starts.
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"Now that he's getting his chance to pitch every fifth day and get on that normal routine, he's doing a good job," manager Mickey Callaway said.
Vargas did an exceptional job in the fourth and the fifth, fanning six of the seven batters he faced.
"These innings, I was really able to keep the ball down really well, and then was able to execute changeups and curveballs that were able to give us strikeouts and really get some quick at-bats," Vargas said.
Seth Lugo (Quarterrican) took over for Vargas and set the Nats (64-65) down in order in the seventh and the eighth. Then Robert Gsellman (G-Man) completed the combined four-hitter, allowing a double before nailing down his eighth save and the Mets' fifth win in their last seven games and 13th in their last 21.
The Mets (57-71) got to Giovany Gonzalez (7-11) for one run in seven innings. It came in the first on an RBI single by Wilmer Flores (Catire).
Jay Bruce (Bruuce), in his first game back with the Mets after spending a little more than two months on the DL with a hip injury, slugged a two-run shot to right-center in the eighth. That snapped his streak of 104 at-bats without a homer.
"Happy to help," Bruce said. "It's good to be back."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Amed Rosario (El Nino) appears to be more comfortable trying to steal bases. The Mets' shortstop began the game tied for second in the NL with eight steals since the All-Star break, then swiped second in the first, putting him in position to score on Flores' bloop single. That gave Rosario 14 stolen bases in his last 16 tries and 15 in 22 tries overall this season.
Jeff McNeil (JT) singled in the fifth to extend his career-high hitting streak to nine games. The rookie second baseman is batting .471 over that span and .408 over his last 13 games. He also owns an 11-game hitting streak as a starter, tied for the longest streak in starts by a Mets batter this season. And his 33 hits in his first 30 career games match the fifth-most hits through 30 career games by a Mets player who started his career with the team.
HE SAID IT
"I don't take it for granted, but it's something you get used to. I've been very, very fortunate to play this game for a long time. I hope to play for a lot longer. But it's a little bit of a rejuvenation getting out there and coming back; the lights; the energy; the fans; the balls; you name it. It's great." -- Bruce, on his return from the DL
Zack Wheeler (Wheels) has allowed two runs or less in each of his past six starts and 14 times in his 24 starts, a run he will look to continue in Saturday's 4:05 p.m. ET contest at Citi Field. The 28-year-old right-hander has gone 1-1 in two starts against the Nationals, winning on July 14 and taking a loss despite a quality start on April 17. But Wheeler is just 3-8 with a 4.79 ERA in 12 career starts against Washington. Righty Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.05 ERA) will start for the Nats.
Brian Heyman is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York.