DENVER -- The Mets are off Monday.The timing is perfect.They can flush their minds of the nightmarish memories of a lost weekend in Denver, revive their spirits and then show up at Citi Field on Tuesday for their first regular-season glimpse against a Nationals team that felt the Mets claimed
DENVER -- The Mets are off Monday.
The timing is perfect.
They can flush their minds of the nightmarish memories of a lost weekend in Denver, revive their spirits and then show up at Citi Field on Tuesday for their first regular-season glimpse against a Nationals team that felt the Mets claimed a National League East title that belonged to it a year ago.
With some offseason juggling that included the hiring of Dusty Baker to manage the team, the Nationals have opened this season giving every indication that they aren't going to lose focus on what needs to be done to reach their goal this time.
"When he was hired, I felt that changed the dynamics in their clubhouse," said Mets manager Terry Collins.
Collins knows Washington is a veteran team with confidence looking to supplant the Mets as NL East champions in 2016. And he warns that his team can't get too caught up in having beat out the Nationals a year ago.
"When I looked at the paper this morning, we're looking up [at the Nationals]," said Collins. "We have to catch them."
And Tuesday, for the first time this season, the Mets get a chance to help themselves catch the Nationals.
Six weeks into the 2016 regular season and the only NL division foes who have yet to play a game against each other are the Mets and the Nationals. Now they will see each other six times in a nine-game span.
Strange? The Nationals have already played 10 games against the Marlins, and six each against the Braves and the Phillies. Not once, however, have they seen the Mets since the two teams broke spring camp in Florida.
"We are ready to get home, play in front of our fans and get on a winning streak," said right-hander Jacob deGrom, who pitched 6 1/3 solid innings but wound up with a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to the Rockies on Sunday.
Ready to get home? The Mets just wrapped up a three-city, 11-game visit out West, in which they split four-game series at San Diego and Los Angeles, but then were not only swept in a three-game visit to Coors Field, but saw themselves slip from first in the NL East to third, 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Nationals.
They are really pretty well set up for the Nationals. Noah Syndergaard will get the call for the first game with an extra day of rest, and then it most likely will be Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon, although if things went just right, Steven Matz will get a seal of approval from doctors -- who will examine his left elbow on Monday -- and then could slip into the rotation ahead of Colon.
That, however, is something that Collins isn't even discussing in hypothetical terms.
His focus is on the Nationals and Syndergaard and Tuesday's game, although at the suggestion that his team was about to play its biggest series of the season, he responded, "That is yet to be determined."
Collins did, however, keep the struggling Curtis Granderson and David Wright out of the starting lineup on Sunday, pointing out that combining it with Monday's scheduled off-day would give both of them a chance to recharge.
And the Nationals series does appear to have an added importance for a Mets team on a four-game losing streak.
"I think we are going to be refreshed and ready to go," said Mets left fielder Michael Conforto. "[The Nationals] are one of the best teams in baseball. We're one of the best as well. It's going to be a great matchup."
The fact the Mets ruined the great expectations of the Nationals a year ago adds some spice to the upcoming six games in nine days between the two teams. The Nationals were, after all, heavy favorites to win the NL East in 2015, only to have the Mets not only claim the division title, but do it by dominating the Nationals in the final two months of the season.
The Nationals were up three games on the Mets going into a three-game series at Citi Field on July 31 last season. The Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes that afternoon from the Tigers, and then proceeded to sweep the three-game series to tie the Nationals, before taking over first place in the NL East for good the next day. The Mets reinforced their standing against the Nationals with a three-game sweep in Washington during the second week of September.
While the Nationals did take two of three from the Mets in the final series of the regular season, the Mets had already clinched the division by then and were just getting their pitching aligned for the postseason.
The Mets -- even second baseman Neil Walker, who came over from the Pirates in an offseason trade -- are aware that the Nationals feel there is a score or two to settle.
"I'm expecting the same as Pittsburgh playing against Cincinnati several years back, also St. Louis and Chicago," said Walker. "I expect good baseball from both sides. This off-day will be helpful for all of us to kind of reset and be ready to go come Tuesday."
Yes, it's only May.
No, it's not too early to get a good idea of how these two teams match up.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.