NEW YORK -- On Thursday afternoon, New York Mets manager Terry Collins said it was imperative for his team to at least keep treading water in the National League East standings during a four-game series against the Washington Nationals.
"We made up some ground this week," Collins said. "So let's just not lose any."
It only took two games for the Mets to lose their margin for error.
The Nationals will look to continue burying the Mets in the division race on Saturday afternoon, when the two rivals meet again at Citi Field.
Washington's Stephen Strasburg (7-2, 3.27 ERA) is scheduled to face New York's Seth Lugo (1-0, 1.29 ERA) in a battle of right-handers.
The Nationals cruised to their second straight win Friday, when ace right-hander Max Scherzer struck out 10 over eight innings in a 7-2 victory.
Washington (41-26) has outscored the Mets (30-36) 15-5 in the first two games of the series.
The fast start against the Mets comes immediately after the Nationals went 2-5 on a week-long homestand, during which they were outscored 46-34 by the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
"I think we hit a little funk there at home just for whatever reason, we just didn't play good as a team," Scherzer said Friday night.
But maybe getting on the road was all the Nationals needed. Washington (23-12 away from Nationals Park) is virtually tied with the Colorado Rockies (25-13) for the best road record in the NL.
"We've played really good ball on the road, we've been some road warriors," Scherzer said. "Off to a good start here, taking two from a division rival."
With the back-to-back wins, the Nationals increased their NL East lead over the now third-place Mets to 10 1/2 games.
New York, which won five of its previous six games heading into Thursday, now needs to figure out how to turn things around Washington, which has won all five games between the teams this season at Citi Field.
"We're playing a division team, the first-place team, and we want to beat these guys," said Mets left-hander Steven Matz, who took the loss Friday night. "It's never fun losing, especially to guys in your division."
Strasburg didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start last Sunday, when he gave up a season-high six runs over a season-low five innings in the Nationals; 11-10 loss to the Braves. Despite the subpar numbers, Strasburg was in line for the win until the Washington bullpen allowed five runs over the final two innings.
This will be the second start of the season for Lugo, who missed the first 60 games due to a partially torn right UCL. He earned the win in his debut last Sunday after allowing one run over seven innings as the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-1.
Strasburg is 7-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 13 career starts against the Mets. Lugo is 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in two games (one start) against the Nationals.