Series Preview: Washington Nationals (6/30-7/2)

The Enemy: Washington Nationals

Nationals' SB Nation Site: Federal Baseball

Nationals' Record: 33-47; 5th Place in NL East (15 GB)

Series Location: RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.

All-Time Series:
Overall: MON; 5-7
Road-MON; 2-4
This Season-First Meeting
This Season Road-First Meeting
1998: MON; 1-2
1999: MON; 1-2
2000: RAYS; 2-1
2001: MON; 1-2

RAYS have never played Expos franchise in regular season since move to Washington. The Nationals' first ever game in a major league ballpark since moving to Washington was in Tropicana Field, however, in an April 2005 exhibition game.

RAYS are 66-93 (.415) all-time in Interleague Play, including 15-3 in 2004 and 10-5 this year. This is the final interleague series of the season.

Series Dates:
Today-7:05; RAYS TV/PAX
Tomorrow-7:05; FSN Florida
Sunday-1:05; FSN Florida

-All games are broadcast on the Rays Radio Network, with flagship station 1250 AM WHNZ in Tampa/St. Pete, and all televised games pick up the SAP feed from the Rays' Spanish Radio Network, which broadcasts all games on Tampa/St. Pete's WMGG 820 AM

Series Pitching Matchups

Today

RAYS-RH Tim Corcoran (1-0, 2.16)

WSH-LH Michael O'Connor (3-4, 3.99)

Tomorrow

RAYS-RH Jamie Shields (4-1, 4.37)

WSH-RH Livan Hernandez (6-8, 5.57)

Sunday

RAYS-RH Jae Seo (2-4, 5.61)

WSH-RH Russ Ortiz (5-6, 5.18)

Behind Enemy Lines: Scouting the Nationals

For the second straight weekend, the Rays catch a National League team in Interleague play at seemingly the lowest of lows. The question is, will they be able to capitalize on the opposing team's situation and get out of Washington with a series win?

The Rays head into the Nation's Capital to face a Nationals' squad that has been a complete disaster this season. And it is a season that has seen a Hall of Fame manager reduced to tears when pulling a player, as Frank Robinson was when pulling Matt LeCroy in the middle of an inning due to defensive mistakes. A season that has seen one of the greatest closers of all-time fired as bullpen coach, as John Wetteland was a few weeks ago for allowing his bullpen to be "too loose". And it is a season that just keeps getting worse. The Nationals come into this series off of a three game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, part of a slide that has seen them lose six of seven and 13 of their last 16 games.

But hey, at least they have a new owner and a new stadium! Theodore Lerner was finally selected as the new owner of the Washington franchise in early May, ending a four year reign of terror under MLB ownership. Former Braves president Stan Katsen was selected to be the ballclub's CEO. It has not been announced whether the Nats' disgrace of a General Manager Jim Bowden will be allowed to continue once the season is over, but it appears manager Frank Robinson will be shown the door after season's end.

Also, earlier this year the District finally agreed on a new stadium plan, unveiling the drawings for a new stadium in the Anacosta River district as part of an area revitalization plan and approving funding. The 43,000 seat stadium project is scheduled to be completed, and this is really a stretch, by the 2008 baseball season. So at least the Nationals' future looks bright, though as much cannot be said of their present state.

Overall this season, the Nats have had few positives to glean from their players. However it can be safely said that that group of underperforming players would not include 1B Nick Johnson. Johnson comes in hitting .308/.439/.548, yet perhaps most importantly, Johnson has stepped up to the plate 312 times, a major plus for a player that has often been bitten by the injury bug in the past.

Alfonso Soriano has also performed excellently for the Nats overall, shocking most around baseball who thought Texas came out on the winning end of the Wilkerson trade. In my opinion, it is still early, and I believe the tale of the tape will prove Texas the winner in that deal. Yes, Soriano has hit well, to the tune of a .271/.337/.542 clip on the year, but is hitting just .225 over the last month. Expect him to cool down, although his hot start certainly bailed out Jim Bowden's idiocy early.

Jose Vidro, who has been the Expos/Nationals' most consistent player for years, has kept it up this season, hitting .312/.365/.411, though rumors of him being possibly dealt as the Nats reorganize persist.

Rookie 3B Ryan Zimmerman has been somewhat underwhelming based on prior expectations, hitting .268/.327/.454, but he does play in a hitter's park and does play outstanding defense.

Otherwise, the rest of their starting offense is crap. The best that can be said about Royce Clayton is that he isn't Christian Guzman, and the best that can be said of Brian Schneider is....um....wait, give me a second, I'll think of it. But seriously, Jose Guillen has been a major disappointment for Washington when he hasn't been hurt, though hitting .206/.266/.386, he leaves many fans hoping he were still hurt. Marlon Byrd has been equally bad, except less costly.

And just to tell you how much of a trainwreck that organization is, they optioned Ryan Church to Double A Harrisburg earlier this season. He must have been hitting poorly, you say? Nope, he had an .823 OPS!!!!! This from the same person who was screwed out of a job coming out of spring training. What a mess of an organization.

To be fair, the Nats have been bitten by the injury bug this season, having sustained injuries to Tony Armas, Zach, Day, Jose Guillen, Felix Rodriguez (no, not the good Felix), Brian Schneider, and John Patterson thus far. So yes, injuries have been an issue, but when you are at the point where your franchise considers an injury to Tony Armas as being "devastating", that right there is a scathing indictment of the front office that is worse than any words that I, or anyone else for that matter, could say about Jim Bowden and his staff.

And, oh yeah, I have not even gotten to the pitchers. Washington's pitching staff is among the worst in the NL, only .18 off from the NL cellar in ERA. They are also second in the league in walks, and their performance is particularly pathetic considering they play in the most pitcher-friendly park in the league in RFK Stadium.

However, one of the pleasant surprises found this season on the Nats pitching staff is tonight's starter, Michael O'Connor, who has led the Washington rotation in posting a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts for Washington. He has struggled a bit with control, but right now, Washington will take what they can get.

Another good contributor for the Nats has come out of their bullpen. Lefty Jon Rauch has posted a 3.11 ERA in 41 games, while putting up 45 strikeouts as compared to 18 walks.

As mentioned earlier, the "devastating" injury to this staff came when Tony Armas went down earlier this month. Armas was not having a good year, but was when compared to the rest of the staff, going 6-4 with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 57 and walking 32.

Gary Majewski and Chad Cordero round out the top five on the Nats staff. Majewski and Cordero have helped solidify a Nats bullpen that has not been as bad as its rotation brethren. In 41 games with the Nats, Majewski has gone 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA, though he has had control issues, walking just eight more than he has struck out. Cordero is having a good year as the Nats closer, in the few opportunities he has actually had to make use of his title, saving 13 of 15, while putting up a 3.25 ERA in 36 innings. He has also walked 14, while striking out 32.

Other than that, there isn't too many positive signs to glean from the Washington staff. Expected staff ace Livan Hernandez has sucked, going 6-8 with a 5.57 ERA in 17 starts (but hey, he "eats" innings!). Russ Ortiz has been similarly awful, posting a 5.18 ERA in 15 starts, while Zach Day was horrible before being injured. Shawn Hill has shown some promise since being inserted into the starting rotation, though he has a 4.66 ERA. Felix Rodriguez was horrible before being injured, as was Joey Eischen, and you can add Ryan Drese to those ranks as well.

However another positive to come out of Washington is John Patterson, who has made six starts with Washington since coming back from injury, and has posted a 4.41 ERA. The best part is that he has walked just seven and struck out 37. Washington may have something there, but other than that, this ballclub has been a disaster, with only Pittsburgh and Chicago breaking their fall at the NL's bottom.

Series Outlook

With that said, the Rays had their trouble last weekend with an Atlanta team in a very similar situation, though the Braves were more talented. On the same token, the Rays must take to the road for this series. Overall, I am gonna say the Rays take two of three in this series, here's why.

Game 1 is probably going to go Washington's way. I like what Tim Corcoran did in his last start, but whether he can keep it up is doubtful, and I just don't like having to turn it over to the bullpen after just five innings, which is as far as Corcoran has gone in two career major league starts. Further, O'Connor has been one of Washington's better pitchers, I just don't like the matchup.

Game 2 is more in the Rays' favor. Livan Hernandez, as explained earlier, is having a horrible season. About the only thing that he has been successful at is eating innings, and when you are pulled early in ballgames because of poor performance, that does no good. And I like Jamie Shields with his nasty change against a week Washington lineup.

Game 3 is more of a toss-up. Jae Seo is an unknown for me, I have not scouted him, I have not seen him other than two innings in a Rays uniform, all I have to go by is the stats. But I do know that Russ Ortiz cannot be much better. Both have similar stats, I call the matchup a draw, though both will be helped by RFK. The bullpens are pretty much a draw as well, it won't come down to pitching. I see the Rays eventually pulling away because I simply think that their lineup is much better than Washington's, and when two of the three units are draws, the third is the deciding factor. But this game, for sure, could go either way.

Series Prediction-Rays take two of three.

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