Before they went on a deep playoff run and reached the World Series, the New York Mets first caught fire in the second half of the 2015 season to run away with the NL East. After the All-Star break even the Nationals were no match for the Mets, who swept them in two consecutive series - one in August and one in September - to capture the division crown.
If the Nationals are to reverse their fortune and climb back on top this year, they will likely need to do a lot better in their head-to-head matchups with the Mets. New York took 11 of their 19 meetings last season and that included a meaningless series in October when the Nats took two of three at Citi Field.
On Tuesday night, the two teams meet for the first time in 2016. Both are near the top of the division, as expected, with the Nationals in first place and the Mets just 1 1/2 games behind.
"It’s a big series," manager Dusty Baker said. "Something’s going to shake in this next week."
Baker is pleased his team is in first place heading into their first matchup with the Mets, but knows they can play better than they have. The Nationals have lost two straight games and only scored one run in each of those contests. They are 7-8 in May after finishing April at 16-7.
The Mets, though, aren't playing their best baseball, either. They just got swept in four games against the Colorado Rockies and are 6-9 in May. The Mets are also dealing with some pitching issues, as Matt Harvey is off to a troubling start, Steven Matz has a sore elbow and Jacob deGrom's velocity is down.
Both teams will try to find their footing against each other, which could make for an interesting series.
"If somebody said in the middle of May that we’d be going to New York in first place, I’m sure everybody would’ve been happy," Baker said.
As two teams that had strong Aprils before struggling this May, the Nationals and Mets are quite evenly matched in many statistical categories.
The Nats and Mets rank second and third in team ERA, respectively. Both are in the middle of the pack in run production, while both rank in the top seven in baseball in homers.
Both teams also have new additions at second base that have adjusted well early this season. For the Mets, that's Neil Walker who is second on the team with 10 homers. And for the Nationals, that's Daniel Murphy, who leads the majors with a .400 batting average.
Murphy represents a central storyline to the rivalry now having played seven seasons with the Mets before joining Washington as a free agent this past winter.
Murphy himself wouldn't add any fuel to the fire, instead opting to focus on how the Mets are a division opponent.
"Should be a lot of fun. Built a lot of relationships with the guys there, it would be nice to see them, it'll be nice if we can go and win some baseball games," he said.
Baker, though, didn't hold back is own opinion about Murphy returning to Citi Field.
“New York’s always fun to go there. You know the people in New York, probably some will jeer him but I think most will cheer him. Because if the Mets had wanted to keep him, they had plenty of chances to keep him. It wasn’t as if Murph left. It was kind of like Murph wasn’t invited to stay," Baker said.
Tuesday night will pit Max Scherzer against Noah Syndergaard in a matchup of superstar right-handers. Scherzer is fresh off his 20-strikeout performance against the Tigers, while Syndergaard has been the Mets' best starter so far.
Scherzer, who no-hit the Mets the last time he faced them, knows this series is as important as they get in mid-May.
"Look, that's the team that beat us. Much respect to what they did last year. They get all the credit and deserve all the credit. But, look, we want to come in and beat you. It's as simple as that."