Originally written on The Nats Blog  |  Last updated 7/23/12

Just like last week, the Washington Nationals (55-39) are gearing up to face the New York Mets (47-48) after finishing a four-game series split against a division rival to hang on to first place. And just like last week, the Mets are still in third place and in the midst of a terrible losing streak that has gotten even worse.

The Mets are on a serious downward spiral, and have little hope of breaking out of it this week if their record against the Nationals holds true. The Nats have taken six of nine from the Mets this season, and they won two of three when they last visited Citi Field in April. The Nationals are now at the 11-7 mark for July, and their offense has really come alive this month. With the way the Mets pitching staff has been struggling lately, they will need to really pull themselves together if they want to stand a chance at winning this series.

The Cruelest Month

Although it is said that April is the cruelest month, the Mets would argue that July holds that title. In July alone, the Mets have been swept by the Chicago Cubs, the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and were nearly swept by the Nationals. They have won just four games out of  16 this month, and are 8.5 games behind the Nats.

The Mets’ pitching has been mostly responsible for this slide, as they hold the third worst team ERA for the month (5.68). They have allowed their opponents to score seven or more runs nine times, and have the second worst WHIP so far in July (1.53). They have the third highest opponent batting average (.291), and have only converted one of four save opportunities. In almost every category, only the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals have been having worse months.

However, their lack of success hasn’t been for lack of trying on the part of their offense; their pitchers have just dug them into holes they couldn’t escape.

The Mets’ offense has scored five or more runs eight times this month, and have only won three of those games. They have a team slash line of .281/.332/.439 for the month, and have scored 75 runs, all of which are in the top half of the rankings.  Unfortunately for the Mets’ hitters though, they are scheduled to face the Nationals’ three best pitchers.

Aces and Second Chances

All three of Washington’s aces are set to start against the Mets this week. Two of the matchups will be exactly the same as in the last series, with Stephen Strasburg added to the mix on this trip.

Last time, the only Nationals loss to the Mets came in the form of an R.A. Dickey knuckle ball and a rare botched performance from Gio Gonzalez. Although Dickey emerged as the winner in the Mets’ 9-5 victory, all things point to a better chance at beating him this time around.

First of all, Gio hasn’t had a worse start this year, and it’s doubtful he would have back-to-back face plants, considering his past performances and the fact that he has the third highest WAR in the National League (3.2 - Strasburg and Dickey are tied for second at 3.3). After some of Gio’s worst outings, he has come back and dominated in his next one, and he is going to be raring to redeem himself when he gets back on the mound on Tuesday.

Secondly, Dickey didn’t completely shut down the Nationals’ offense last time they saw him. They put the ball in play ten times off him - Zim even homered -, but they left 12 guys on base in that game. The Nats know they can hit him (they are collectively batting .255 against him), so if they can tighten up their situational hitting, they have a good chance at preventing Dickey from becoming the first pitcher to reach 14 wins this season.

Worth Noting

- The Mets have lost both of the games Chris Young has pitched in against the Nationals this year, and the Nats are currently batting .286 against him.

- In 20 at bats, Strasburg has only given up two hits to the Mets this season, limiting them to a .100 batting average off him.

Who's hot?

Jordany Valdespin (2B) .500 AVG, .538 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 4 HR (July – 24 AB) – has moved his batting average up 77 points since July 1.

Daniel Murphy (2B) .444 AVG, .464 OBP, .667 SLG, 8 2B (July – 54 AB)

David Wright (3B) .323 AVG, .400 OBP, .615 SLG, 5 HR (July – 65 AB)

Who's not?

Lucas Duda (RF) .140 AVG, .260 OBP, .233 SLG, 16 SO (July – 43 AB)

Ramon Ramirez (RP) 5.23 ERA, .400 OBP, 9 BB, 1 L (July – 10.1 IP) – allowed five earned runs on five hits and three walks in 1.2 innings during his last outing.

Probable Starters

Jordan Zimmermann (7-6, 2.35 ERA) vs. Chris Young (2-4, 4.11 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (12-5, 3.32 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (13-1, 2.84 ERA)

Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.85 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hefner (1-3, 5.85 ERA)

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