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Morning Briefing: A HUGE final game before the break

NEW YORK -- Let’s just say the All-Star break is arriving at a good time for the New York Mets.

The Mets complete the first half on Sunday as Steven Matz (7-4, 3.34 ERA) opposes Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez (4-8, 4.79) at 1:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field.

The final game of the first half has big ramifications.

A win and the Mets will trail the Nationals by four games in the NL East.

A loss and the Mets will trail the Nationals by six games. That is precisely where the Mets stood after getting swept in Washington in late June. It would erase all the strides the Mets made on this homestand by going 6-1 against the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins before the Nationals arrived in Queens.

With the Nationals throwing the southpaw Gonzalez on Sunday, yes, Wilmer Flores should be back in the starting lineup. In fairness, though, Flores has entered in the middle innings in each of the past three games. So he has not exactly been buried on the bench by Jose Reyes' arrival.

Also on Sunday, the Futures Game will be held at Petco Park in San Diego. Infielders Dilson Herrera, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith will represent the Mets in the 7 p.m. ET prospect showcase.

The Mets will begin the second half on Friday in Philadelphia.

SUNDAY’S NEWS REPORTS:

  • Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes officially withdrew from Tuesday’s All-Star Game due to injuries, leaving Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon as the Mets’ active representatives. Terry Collins will manage the National League squad and bring his entire coaching staff. Syndergaard departed Friday’s game with what the Mets labeled arm fatigue, while Cespedes departed the same game with a strained right quadriceps. Collins said Syndergaard will not require an MRI because the Mets are satisfied there is no issue. Syndergaard will still travel to the All-Star Game and likely will throw on flat ground for pitching coach Dan Warthen at Petco Park. Syndergaard likely will slot at the end of the rotation once play resumes after the All-Star break, which will provide maximum rest. Read more in the Post, Daily News, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.

  • In his first start in Matt Harvey's rotation spot, Logan Verrett was charged with five runs on four hits and five walks in 6 2/3 innings. The Nationals went on to beat the Mets, 6-1, Saturday. Daniel Murphy again torched the Mets, going 3-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and a walk. Murphy is now hitting .438 (21-for-48) with six homers and 19 RBIs in 12 games against his former club this season. He also has three walks. The record for most RBIs in a season against the Mets belongs to Hank Aaron, who had 28 in 1962. Murphy still has seven games remaining to try to catch Hammerin’ Hank. Murphy has produced a hit in each of his dozen games against the Mets. That’s the second-longest hitting streak against the Mets to begin a career in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn began his career with a hit in 15 straight games against the Mets. Read game recaps in the Post, Daily News, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.

  • Columnist John Harper in the Daily News wonders what type of starting pitcher the Mets could acquire if they dangled first-base prospect Dominic Smith, who happens to be the heir apparent to Lucas Duda. Writes Harper: “If the Rays decide to make starters such as Matt Moore or Drew Smyly available, it’s the opinion of a team executive with no stake in the matter that ‘it will take something more attractive’ than Smith to make such a trade. The same is sure to be the case for Rich Hill, the A’s lefty who is having an All-Star season, and perhaps even the Twins’ Ervin Santana. On the other hand, is it worth giving up Smith for someone like the Reds’ Dan Straily, Angels’ Hector Santiago, or Phillies’ Jeremy Hellickson?”

  • Columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post writes that Keith Hernandez will love Smith’s glove at first base.

  • Columnist Steve Serby in the Post wonders where the Mets would be with Murphy.

  • Ken Davidoff in the Post speaks with Judd Apatow, co-director of ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Doc & Darryl,” about getting Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in a room together alone. The documentary premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. Strawberry told Kirsten Fleming in the Post about his ’86 teammates: “I didn’t really like half the people that I played with. They probably didn’t like me, either.” Read more on the documentary in the Times.

  • James Wagner in the Times writes that Cespedes’ emphasis on taking more walks has helped him produce more homers, too. Writes Wagner: “Opposing pitchers have thrown Cespedes the lowest percentage of strikes -- about 64 percent -- since his rookie season, perhaps because he has been the most dependable power hitter in an inconsistent Mets lineup.”

  • Writes columnist Mark Herrmann in Newsday about the Mets’ injury woes: “In all of his years, Collins has had no experience in dealing with a crazy matrix like the 2016 season. What he has is the experience that tells him, ‘Just deal with it.’”

  • The Mets officially signed fourth-round pick Michael Paez, who won the College World Series as the shortstop for Coastal Carolina. Paez will be assigned to Brooklyn.

  • Robert Gsellman returned from a quadriceps injury to make his first start for Las Vegas since June 11. He allowed five runs in three innings, with all of the damage coming on a pair of homers by Albuquerque’s Tom Murphy, in an 8-5 loss. Domingo Tapia surrendered a walk-off homer as Clearwater beat St. Lucie, 4-3. Chase Ingram allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in Columbia’s 8-4 loss to Augusta. Franklin Correa had three RBIs in Kingsport’s 10-8 win against Danville. Adam Atkins allowed four eighth-inning runs and Hudson Valley rallied to beat Brooklyn, 5-2. Read the full minor league recap here.

  • Marc Carig in Newsday profiles the All-Star-bound Colon.

  • Matz tells Newsday he is trying not to think about the bone spur in his pitching elbow, which will need to be surgically removed this winter provided the southpaw can gut through the remainder of the season using anti-inflammatory medication.

  • Elina Gustines in the Times reviews remarkable statistical performances from around MLB during the first half, including Colon’s homer in San Diego and Flores’ 6-for-6 game.

  • Richard Sandomir in the Times reviews Lenny Dykstra’s memoir.

  • David Wright gave a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label each to Syndergaard and Familia as gifts for their first All-Star selections, Newsday reports.

  • David Lennon in Newsday previews the New York contingent at the Futures Game.

  • From the bloggers … Faith and Fear admits hindsight may have the right idea about the Mets and Murphy. ... Mets Report believes Murphy deserves his current success. ... Blogging Mets has a review of Lenny Dykstra’s new memoir.

BIRTHDAYS: Bob Bailor turns 65.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU’RE UP: Are the Mets being too casual with Syndergaard’s injury by not having him undergo an MRI?