When looking at how the Nationals flipped their fortunes to retake control of the NL East from last year to this one, Daniel Murphy is a good place to start. The Met-turned-National absolutely killed his former team. He had hits in all 19 games against them and batted .413 with seven homers and 21 RBI. Take away Murphy's games against the Mets this year and his season batting average drops 11 points.
No one in the Nats' lineup played anywhere close to Murphy's level against the Mets this season. Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos combined for 32 RBI in the season series, but Rendon hit .279 and Ramos hit .250.
The Nationals went 12-7 against the Mets and Murphy was the major difference.
"When I think oh, it might be good to give him a day, he’ll come out and get two or three hits," bench coach Chris Speier said. "I know he really wants to play against these guys. If you’ve seen him day in and day out, he’s a grinder. He doesn’t give at-bats away, and he hits the ball hard more consistently than anybody that I’ve seen this year."
Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg all pitched lights-out this season vs. the Mets. With his seven shutout frames on Wednesday, Roark held a 1.27 ERA through 21 1/3 total innings across four outings against them. Strasburg allowed just four runs with 30 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings (1.83 ERA) and Scherzer gave up just two runs in 20 2/3 innings (0.87 ERA) with 29 strikeouts.
The Nationals' starting rotation stepped it up in their big matchups with the Mets, and so did some in their bullpen. Blake Treinen tossed seven scoreless frames in seven appearances. Felipe Rivero, who has since been traded to the Pirates, threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Even Jonathan Papelbon, who is also gone, had three clean outings and two saves.
Add it all up and the Nats kept the Mets to just 50 runs through 19 games, an average of 2.63 per contest. That's a good recipe for success.
The Nats actually lost two of their six series vs. the Mets this season, but were never swept. Conversely, the Mets were swept by the Nats in Washington on June 27-29, then lost three of four to the Nationals in New York on July 7-10.
That stretch in the middle of the summer was when the Nats really took control of the NL East. They left that series up six games and by the time they met again on Sept. 3, the Nationals were up 10 1/2. Even dropping two of three to the Mets in that three-game set meant little for the division race. The Mets just delayed the inevitable and then lost more ground - 1 1/2 games - in the eight days before they met again for their final matchup this week.
Going 12-7 against the Mets was a sharp change from what happened last season when the Nationals went 8-11, a record that was skewed by two wins in the final, meaningless series of the season.
This year the Nats took care of business.
"It's real big. It's the last time we're going to play them," center fielder Trea Turner said. "It could be a lot different situation."
Now the Nationals embark on their final 16 games of the season with the Mets in their rearview. There is a chance they meet again in the playoffs, but for now it's basically just a matter of time before they pop champagne to celebrate a division title.
"I think everybody is very excited about it being very close and I think that's part of why we've been playing very well the fact that we are very close to clinching a playoff spot," catcher Wilson Ramos said through an interpreter. "The emotions and the way we were playing out there you can tell that we're all tasting a little bit."
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