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Morning Briefing: How's that ring look now, Bryce Harper?

WASHINGTON --

FIRST PITCH: Emboldened by the addition of Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper arrived in spring training and proclaimed, “Where’s my ring?”

Alas, it is the New York Mets, not the Washington Nationals, who may be fitted for the jewelry.

The Mets rallied from a 5-3 deficit on Monday, 7-1 deficit on Tuesday and 2-1 deficit on Wednesday and produced a three-game sweep in the showdown between the clubs. As a result, the Mets (78-61) have opened a seven-game division lead over Washington (71-68) with 23 games remaining. The magic number is down to 17.

The Mets are 17 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 27, 2008. That day, Johan Santana tossed a shutout on short rest while pitching with a torn meniscus in game No. 161, against the Miami Marlins. (Forget what happened the next day.)

“We’re in an enviable position,” Kelly Johnson said.

Still, the Mets still have work to do. They now have a four-game series against the struggling Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Reigning NL Player of the Week Bartolo Colon (13-11, 4.18 ERA) takes a 25-inning scoreless streak into Thursday’s 7:10 p.m. ET series opener. He opposes right-hander Shelby Miller (5-13, 2.81), who is winless in his past 20 starts.

Manager Terry Collins indicated he will rest several starters in the series opener in Atlanta after an emotionally uplifting -- yet draining -- series in D.C.

Read the Mets-Braves series preview here.

THURSDAY’S NEWS REPORTS:

  • Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes delivered eighth-inning homers as the Mets rallied from a one-run deficit to beat the Nationals, 5-3, on Wednesday. Jacob deGrom was outpitched by Stephen Strasburg for most of the night, yet deGrom rebounded after recent struggles and came away with the victory. Cespedes now has 36 RBIs in 36 games as a Met, increasing the chatter -- although improbable -- about dislodging Harper as the favorite for NL MVP. “I don’t know where to hit Cespedes, because I want to try to get him up there as much as I can right now,” Collins said. “He seems to be getting every big hit there is.” Read game recaps in the Post, Daily News, Washington Post, Times, Newsday, Record and at MLB.com.

  • General manager Sandy Alderson said the tentative plan is to have Matt Harvey pitch twice more during the regular season -- during the Yankees series Sept. 18-20, then potentially the final weekend against the Nationals. Of course, that last series may now be meaningless. The postseason plan remains unclear. Logan Verrett is likely to start Monday against the Marlins at Citi Field in Harvey’s spot. Read more in the Post, Times, Newsday and at MLB.com.

  • Jared Diamond in the Journal notes that Harvey has thrown 14.8 pitches per inning, the ninth-fewest in baseball among qualified starters. Adds Diamond: “Harvey has hit the 110-pitch threshold just once this season, after reaching that mark nine times in 2013. He also has relied less on elbow-taxing breaking pitches, throwing his slider 14.2 percent of the time, versus 18.5 percent in 2013, according to the website FanGraphs. Meanwhile, he has thrown his fastball 61.1 percent of the time, compared with 56.9 percent two years ago.” Says pitching coach Dan Warthen: “There’s no hard data that says he should only throw ‘x’ amount of innings. There should be a human factor in there, and how the guy feels. And he feels great.”

  • Steven Matz threw a bullpen session at Nationals Park on Wednesday and pronounced the blister that forced him from his last start a nonissue. Matz will face the Braves on Friday, with the Mets now using a six-man rotation -- with or without Harvey.

  • A New Jersey man cheated an investor out of a seven-figure sum in part by forging the signature of Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, prosecutors allege. Read more in the Times and Daily News.

  • Columnist David Lennon in Newsday says don’t worry about a repeat of the 2007 collapse.

  • Columnist Mike Vaccaro in the Post dissects the decision to have Johnson pinch hit for Wilmer Flores in the eighth.

  • Tyler Pill had a 25-game unbeaten streak in appearances for Binghamton snapped as the B-Mets lost the opener of their best-of-five playoff series to Reading, 9-4. Martires Arias allowed a pair of fourth-inning homers as Savannah lost its playoff opener to Asheville, 5-1. Read the full minor league recap here.

  • From the bloggers … Mets Report suggests things could not have worked out better for Harvey. … The Kings of Queens advocates Cespedes for NL MVP.

BIRTHDAYS: Andrew Brown turns 31. ... Phillip Evans and Edwin German are 23. ... Leon Canelon is 24.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU’RE UP: Should Cespedes be the NL MVP over Harper?