WASHINGTON — As bad as things seem to have gone for the Mets this season, with minimal sustained success as a team and lots of underachieving individually, consider: At least they’re not the Nationals.
Noah Syndergaard’s eight strong innings and Wilson Ramos’ early grand slam helped the Mets to a 6-2 victory Tuesday against Washington. That was the Mets’ fourth win in five games, the miniature hot streak bringing them back to .500 (20-20).
The post-Bryce Harper Nats, meanwhile, have struggled in the month since the Mets last saw them. Anthony Rendon, the star third baseman who doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, is about the only regular hitting up to his standards. Trea Turner hasn’t played since early April due to a broken finger. Gerardo Parra, a glove-first outfielder picked off the scrap heap after he was cut by the rebuilding Giants, is the backup first baseman (and the starter Tuesday). Washington has won two of nine starts by Max Scherzer (3.64 ERA).
Altogether, the Nationals are 16-25, closer in the NL East standings to the lowly Marlins than the first-place Phillies. In a decade marked by disappointment, this might be the deepest.
So, yeah, maybe the Mets don’t look so bad by comparison.
“When you’re winning,” Mickey Callaway said, “it’s more fun.”
Especially if the version of Syndergaard the Mets got Tuesday — the high-quality pitcher they’ve seen in two of his past three starts — is here to stay.
Syndergaard didn’t allow a hit until the sixth, when Wilmer Difo lined a single to right. Victor Robles’ two-run homer that inning accounted for the only runs Syndergaard allowed in eight frames. He gave up four hits and finished with six strikeouts and one walk.
“Pitching is a lot more fun when you just go out there and don’t think,” Syndergaard said. “I have a tendency to think too much about what my body is doing as opposed to being free and easy and letting it rip.”
This time, Syndergaard didn’t worry about his mechanics. Abandoning his slider, which has caused him trouble for weeks, Syndergaard relied on pinpoint location of his sinker and four-seam fastball, especially low in the strike zone.
“The changeup was really good, but the fastball command — he was dotting his fastball,” said Callaway, whose starters have a 2.57 ERA in their past dozen games. “If he wants to elevate one here and there, that’s great, but fastball command down in the zone with that good angle that he has is the most important thing for him.”
Syndergaard said: “I threw one slider the entire game, and I spiked it about 50 feet. Today I was primarily four-seam, sinker, changeup and the occasional curveball. That’s really encouraging and definitely a start to build off of.”
Ramos highlighted the Mets’ first-inning rally — assisted by Washington’s defensive flub — with a grand slam to leftfield, just his fifth extra-base hit of the season. The inning nearly ended when Robinson Cano’s grounder to second looked like a potential double play. Instead, Parra dropped the relay throw at first, extending the inning. Pete Alonso singled and Michael Conforto walked to load the bases for Ramos, who took care of the rest.
“Great swing and a big moment,” Callaway said. “We made them pay for a little mishap there, and that’s what you have to do when you’re a good team.”
Brandon Nimmo doubled home a run in the sixth. Dominic Smith’s first homer of the year — a pinch-hit, 435-foot, 108.5-mph blast to center — came in the ninth.
That all made for a much happier postgame clubhouse than the Mets have often had in recent weeks.
“I don’t think they were doing anything wrong as far as focus or effort or things like that when we weren’t going like we wanted to,” Callaway said. “But it is nice to win some ball games.”