Mets send McHugh to mound, start series with Nationals.

Only 22 games remain on the slate for the 2012 Mets. It’s been a crazy year, filled with hope, despair, drama and heartbreak. At the very least, I know history will remember 2012 as the season Johan Santana finally gave the Mets a no-hitter. Hopefully it will also be remembered as the year the great Matt Harvey debuted, but we won’t know about that for a long time.

Tonight the Mets kick off a three-game series with the Washington Nationals. Collin McHugh will be making his third major league start for New York while Washington’s Gio Gonzalez is trying for his 19th win of the season. Gonzalez, who is left-handed, sports a mid-90s fastball as well as a devastating curve. With a 2.98 ERA in 175.1 innings pitched so far, he’s as much a Cy Young candidate as anyone in the National League.

McHugh had an excellent debut against the Rockies in late August, but his second start, in St. Louis last week, was a dud. The Mets are hoping the righty can boost his confidence with a solid start tonight and become a decent spot stater or long reliever for the 2013 team.

The Nationals just lost two of three to the Marlins, but overall their recent homestand went very well. They won eight of 11 games against St. Louis, Chicago and Miami and now lead the NL East by 5.5 games over Atlanta. However, the big news is that their ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg has just been shutdown for the season after having an innings limit loom over his head for the entire year. Losing Strasburg hurts, especially because of the self-inflicted nature of the move, but the Nats still have great pitchers like tonight’s starter and Jordan Zimmermann, who should at the very least ensure that the Nats hang on to make the playoffs.

Ike Davis is the only lefty in the Mets batting order tonight. Terry Collins announced today that he plans to tweak the team’s game preparation by moving batting practice closer to the start of the game. There’s really no way to tell if this will cause a difference in batting performance, but if the Mets score 10 runs tonight, you can bet the SNY analysts will bring it up.

Unlike Washington’s pitching staff, the lineup hasn’t been a strength all season. However, when Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are both starting, the Nats average 5.2 runs per game. Thanks to stints on the disabled list for both players, that has only happened 83 times this season. Of course, all that matters is that both are healthy for the playoffs. If they can continue averaging more than five runs per game, the Nats won’t need to worry about the loss of Strasburg so much.

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