Nats continue improbable playoff chase against Mets

The New York Mets will be the next team to try and trip up the red-hot Washington Nationals when the teams open a three-game series at Nationals Park on Friday.

Washington has won eight of its last nine after capping a three-game sweep over the Miami Marlins with Thursday's 9-0 victory.

But is the recent surge too little, too late? Atlanta has the National League East all but wrapped up, with a 13-game cushion entering the day. However, the Nationals find themselves 6 1/2 games behind Cincinnati for the second wild card spot.

"It's not gonna be easy, and we've got a long ways to go," right fielder Jayson Werth said of his team's playoff chances. "But we've got to grind it out and win tough games and come from behind if we want to give ourselves a shot in the end. But nobody said it was going to be easy, so we've just got to keep going."

The Nats out-hit Miami, 12-4, on Thursday as Werth, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond homered. Harper extended his career-best hitting streak to 11 games, while Desmond is 13-for-26 with three homers and eight RBI over his last six games. Gio Gonzalez tossed seven shutout innings and allowed only three hits to get the win.

"We're a scary team when we're going good, and I think everybody knows that," Harper said.

New York split a four-game set with the Philadelphia Phillies this week. The Mets are hoping to carry the momentum from Thursday's 11-3 rout into Friday's series opener.

Carlos Torres allowed only four hits in 6 2/3 innings, while Daniel Murphy matched that hit total himself with four hits in the victory. The Mets scored at least one run in each inning from the third inning through the final frame.

Dillon Gee will hope for that kind of run support when he gets the call for Friday's series opener. He gave up a season high-tying 10 hits in six innings against Detroit on Sunday and lost for only the third time in 16 starts.

Taking the hill for Washington is Jordan Zimmermann, who is tied for the NL lead with 15 wins. He rebounded from a tough outing against the Cubs (career- high eight runs and three homers allowed) to hold Kansas City to two runs in 7 2/3 innings his last time out.

"Against the Cubs, I was nibbling a little bit and throwing too many offspeed pitches and that's not the way I pitch," Zimmermann said. "(The Royals) knew that and they were super aggressive and I was able to mix the changeup around the fourth inning on. I got some quick outs and I was able to stay in the game a little longer."

Washington has a 7-5 edge in the season series with New York, as the teams are even in run differential in those previous 12 meetings (52-52).