A season-ending three-game series between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals was supposed to have the NL East title at stake.
Instead, the Mets are vying for home-field advantage in next week’s NL division series while the Nationals play out the string in what has been a disappointing season.
The division-winning Mets look to extend their longest winning streak over the Washington franchise in 24 years Friday night.
New York (89-70) and Washington (81-78) switched spots as the division leader eight times this year. The Mets, however, moved ahead for good following a 12-1 win at Miami on Aug. 3, a day after pulling level by completing a three-game sweep of Washington.
They swept the Nationals again from Sept. 7-9, taking control of the East with a seven-game lead before clinching it last weekend.
The only remaining race left for New York involves home-field advantage in the NLDS, which starts next Friday against Los Angeles. The teams have the same record but the Mets hold the tiebreaker.
They dropped into a tie with the Dodgers after falling 3-0 at Philadelphia on Thursday to get swept in the three-game set.
"It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just gear up for the playoffs,’" third baseman David Wright told MLB’s official website. "But home-field advantage would be nice, so I think that’s something that we really need to bear down these last three games and try to attain. And it would be nice to go into the playoffs with some sort of momentum."
Facing the Nationals, losers of seven of their last 10, should be just what the Mets are looking for. They’re aiming for their first seven-game winning streak against Washington since taking nine straight when the franchise was the Montreal Expos in 1991.
Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.34 ERA) takes the ball, and he’s 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 innings over two starts against the Nationals.
The rookie right-hander was outstanding last Friday, striking out 11 and allowing two runs in 7 2-3 innings of a 12-5 win at Cincinnati. He helped himself with a pair of hits, including an RBI single.
That was enough for manager Terry Collins to declare Syndergaard will be in the postseason rotation.
"He’s going to start the game, whatever game it may be. I’m very impressed," Collins said. "This kid’s really gotten better."
Syndergaard will try to be better at Citi Field, where he’s 0-1 while surrendering nine runs and three homers in 12 2-3 innings of his last two starts after going 7-1 with a 1.82 ERA through his first nine.
New York is expected to have Yoenis Cespedes back in the lineup after getting a day off to rest a pair of bruised fingers. He was hit by a pitch and left Wednesday’s 7-5 loss at Philadelphia.
He’s 7 for 18 with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs in his last four meetings with Washington.
The Nationals won 3-0 on Thursday to salvage a victory from a three-game set at Atlanta.
”Everybody in here is disappointed how the season turned out, but at the same time, it would be huge to go into New York and play our best baseball,” Thursday’s starter Stephen Strasburg said. ”Hopefully we can get them into a little slump heading into the playoffs. That’s all we can do.”
Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.93) is looking to conclude his season with another sterling effort against the Mets. The left-hander is 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA and 9.23 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts in Queens.
He’s 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 24 2-3 innings during his last four overall matchups with New York.
Gonzalez allowed two runs in five-plus innings while not getting a decision in Sunday’s 12-5 loss to the Phillies. The effort was overshadowed by a dugout fight between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, highlighted by the closer choking the superstar right fielder.
Papelbon has been suspended for the rest of the season.