Russell: The Mets vs. Nationals Rivalry That Isn’t

When the Mets take on the Nationals tonight, it will be another game in the rivalry that isn’t. Despite being the two best teams in the NL East for the last several seasons, there is something lacking in excitement of the head-to-head meetings.

In 2014, Washington won the division and the New York finished in a tie for second, but there was little drama. The Nationals won the NL East by 19 games.

Last season saw some of the best games between the two teams. There was the Wilmer Flores walk-off homer and the Mets home run barrage on Sunday Night Baseball. But when the Mets swept the Nationals in early September, the division race was off and the magic number countdown was on. The teams met in the final weekend but the Mets had already clinched.

This was supposed to be the year where the teams were neck and neck. The Mets are coming off a pennant winning season, have an impressive pitching staff, and, of course, Yoenis Cespedes. The Nationals signed Met playoff hero Daniel Murphy, have the reigning MVP in Bryce Harper, and brought in Dusty Baker to settle down the clubhouse. Instead of a pennant race, Washington is winning the division by 10.5 games.

The Mets are closer to the fourth-place Phillies in the standings than they are to Washington.

The Mets are still fortunate to be in the wild card as Terry Collins tries to keep the clubhouse calm and confident. “When you’re dealing with some of the younger guys, you’ve got to stay on top of it a little bit,” Collins said before Saturday’s game. “The veteran guys, I think they’ve been through the battles before, where a guy like Kelly Johnson, there’s days you’re gonna play second, they’re days you’re gonna play first, they’re are days you’re gonna play third. I think he’s used to that.”

As the Mets and Nationals take turns running away with the division, the atmosphere of the games are relatively calm. Think about the Mets-Cardinals games of the mid-80s, the Mets-Braves meetings from 1998-2001, and the Mets-Phillies games of the late 2000s. Those really had the fans of both teams making even the regular season meetings feel like playoff games.

There are no harsh feelings or hatred between these two teams. There is no John Rocker villain to add. There is no moment, like Terry Pendleton’s late-season homer off Roger McDowell that still has fans shaking their heads.

Even NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy signing with Washington didn’t jump start a rivalry. The Mets were able to re-sign Cespedes and trade for Neil Walker (although he’s injured and out for the season), so it wasn’t as if Murphy damaged the Mets.

The star power is there as well. The meetings pit Cespedes against Harper, in a battle of MVP candidates. The rotations (when healthy) include Steven Matz, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Strasburg, Jacob deGrom, Gio Gonzalez and Bartolo Colon.

There is an outside chance for the teams to vital games this year. The Mets can take the second wild card and go on a run to the NLCS and possibly face Washington.

If that happens, it would finally mean big games between the two teams. Because it’s not happening in the regular season.

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