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Nationals-Mets Preview

Superb pitching has been the New York Mets' calling card but clutch hitting has them on the verge of gaining a share of the NL East lead.

Noah Syndergaard looks to continue his home dominance and help the Mets sweep a three-game set with the Washington Nationals on Sunday night.

New York (54-50) has one of the best staffs in baseball with a 3.25 ERA, making up for the offense's .234 average that is lowest in the majors.

The bats, however, have been vital to the Mets climbing to within one game of first-place Washington (54-48). Wilmer Flores' walkoff homer delivered Friday's 2-1 win, and Lucas Duda hit a tiebreaking double in the eighth of a 3-2 victory the next day.

The Mets haven't been in first since June 19, and they haven't swept a three-game series from the Nationals since May 25-27, 2009.

They have a good chance of changing both behind Syndergaard (5-5, 2.70 ERA).

The rookie right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA over the past six starts. He's been even better at Citi Field, going 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 11.40 strikeouts per nine innings over his past four games. He's the first Met to go eight innings in three straight home games since Al Leiter in 2001.

"I don't think any of us could have predicted the rise to where he's at this fast," manager Terry Collins told MLB's official website.

Syndergaard carried a perfect game into the seventh Tuesday before leaving with nine strikeouts after the eighth of a 4-0 win over San Diego.

"I've learned so much. I've gained so much confidence," said Syndergaard.

He allowed one run with a season-high five walks in five innings and didn't get a decision in a 4-3 loss at Washington on July 22.

New York has won eight of its last 12 home games with Duda batting .325 with 10 homers and 14 RBIs. The first baseman hit a pair of solo shots Saturday to give him eight home runs in his last seven games.

Yoenis Cespedes batted in front of Duda during his Mets debut Saturday, a day after being acquired from Detroit. Cespedes, the big bat the Mets have craved this year, went 0 for 3 and drew an intentional walk that set up Duda's heroics.

"That's exactly what we're hoping to do, put some guys in the middle of that lineup, where you have bats throughout that can produce some runs," Collins said. "You kind of like the way we're headed."

The Nationals will try to end a 10-game road trip with a fourth victory. They turn to Jordan Zimmermann (8-6, 3.36), who is 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last seven starts against the Mets - all ending in Washington wins.

He's won three straight visits to Queens with a 1.50 ERA, tossing 13 consecutive innings without yielding an earned run.

The right-hander allowed three runs in seven innings opposite Syndergaard on July 22. While he didn't figure in the decision, he extended his unbeaten streak to six starts with a 3-0 record and 2.33 ERA.

It ended six days later, however, when Zimmermann gave up three runs in six innings of a 4-1 loss at Miami.

He'll face Cespedes for the first time and he's limited Duda to 7 for 35 (.200) - 1 for 6 this year.

Bryce Harper is looking to build on his two hits from Saturday after going 3 for 20 in his first five games in New York this season. He is 2 for 3 off Syndergaard.

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