WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals begin their final homestand of the season Thursday night when they host the New York Mets.
They'll play seven games over seven days against the Mets and Marlins, but the stakes are much lower than in previous years. They won't be clinching a playoff berth or setting a rotation or auditioning players for a post-season roster spot.
Washington (77-75) sits seven games behind the Braves in the National League East and 6 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the second wild card. A best-case scenario would seem to be staving off mathematical elimination until they end the season with three road games in Colorado.
The homestand may be the last for All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper, a free-agent in the offseason.
"I haven't really thought about it," Harper told the Washington Post. "I think it'll really hit that last game I guess, running off the field or something like that. I'm just trying to enjoy it and see what happens."
After a rough first half, Harper enters the final 10 games hitting .247 with 34 homers and 97 RBIs. He has never driven in 100 runs.
The Mets (70-82) long ago became a non-factor in 2018 and are already looking ahead to next season when they could boast arguably the best starting rotation in the East.
On Wednesday, they announced they were shutting down right-hander Zack Wheeler (12-7, 3.31 ERA) for the remainder of the season, with Corey Oswalt taking his place in the rotation.
Wheeler, who didn't pitch in the majors in 2015 and 2016, had a shortened 2017. This season he's gone 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA over his last 11 starts but has pitched almost 100 more innings than a year ago.
"We're really excited about the year he had, and we feel like we'd probably be taking the best care of him we can if we shut him down at this point," manager Mickey Callaway told mlb.com.
Left-hander Jason Vargas (6-9, 6.47 ERA) starts Thursday's opener for the Mets.
Vargas has also enjoyed a strong finish. His ERA was in double digits back in May and after an Aug. 7 loss it was 8.75 to go along with a 2-8 record. He's given up two earned runs or fewer in five of his last six starts, including last time out when he beat the Marlins, allowing two runs over six innings.
Vargas is 1-3 with a 0.83 ERA, in six games (three starts) against Washington.
Right-hander Max Scherzer (17-7, 2.53 ERA) starts for Washington. Scherzer has 277 strikeouts coming in and needs eight to top his career high of 284, set in 2016. He has 16 double-digit strikeout games on the season.
In his last start, Scherzer was roughed up by the Braves, giving up six runs on seven hits over four innings, his shortest start of the season as he seeks a third straight NL Cy Young Award.
"I just couldn't get into a rhythm where I knew where those balls were actually going to end up. I couldn't control my misses," Scherzer told the Washington Post. "I was pitching out of the stretch so much. I never found a rhythm out of the windup to be able to take it to the stretch to be able to execute clean innings."
Scherer is 9-4 with a 2.34 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) against the Mets.