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Series Preview: Let’s take two in DC

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Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins
Kyle Schwarber #12, Gerardo Parra #88, and Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals celebrate their 5-1 win against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on June 27, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays won the series against the Los Angeles Angels, but with the Boston Red Sox sweeping the New York Yankees the Rays have dropped out of the top place in the American League East, where they are currently 1 game behind.

The Washington Nationals had started the year off with a losing record — many assumed they’d be sellers at the trade deadline — but they have gone 12-3 over their last 15 games. Earlier this year they split a two game series at Tropicana Field.

Matchups:

Tuesday 7:05 PM: Rich Hill vs Joe Ross
Wednesday 4:05 PM: Michael Wacha vs Jon Lester

Joe Ross was part of the mega three-way trade in December of 2014 that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa Bay, and Trea Turner to Washington, among others. After opting out of the 2020 season Ross has returned with a mediocre season where he’s eaten innings for the Nationals. His 74.1 innings is just three innings shy of being his second highest total in the majors. He has a 4.12 ERA/4.75 FIP/4.30 xFIP which isn’t far off from his 4.26 ERA/4.24 FIP/4.23 xFIP for his career. He’s been more effective of late, holding his opponents scoreless in two of his last three starts. His strikeout rate is up to 23.2% and his 8.3% walk rate is average. His primary pitch is a 93.3 mph sinker that he throws nearly 45% of the time. He compliments that with a 85.1 mph slider around 30% of the time. He will try to sneak a 93.4 mph four-seam fastball up at the top of the zone. He will occasionally mix in a 88.6 mph changeup.

Jon Lester’s career is winding down. This year he has a 4.99 ERA/5.15 FIP/4.94 xFIP that is slightly better than the numbers he posted last year. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 15.6% while his walk rate has increased to 8.7%. In his last start he was lit up for seven runs in 2.1 innings by the Miami Marlins. However he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his other six starts, now a 4-5 inning pitcher rather than the innings eater he has been in the past. He mixes a 87.0 mph cutter and 89.0 mph four-seam fastball as his most used pitch coming in around 30% each. Against right handed batters he’ll throw a 81.7 mph changeup. He’ll occasionally throw a 87.6 mph sinker and 72.5 mph curveball.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Nationals offense hasn’t been potent

The Nationals have hit .249/.321/.399 and put up a 96 wRC+. Their 3.95 runs per game rank sixth worse in the majors just ahead of the Yankees. However that doesn’t mean there aren’t some landmines to avoid.

Kyle Schwarber leads the way hitting .253/.337/.569 and putting up a 141 wRC+. His 24 homers leads the team. Schwarber has been especially hot over the last few weeks: he is hitting .373/.433/1.085 and putting up a 288 wRC+. He’s hit 14 homers over that 15 game span. Proceed with caution.

Trea Turner (131 wRC+) and Juan Soto (126 wRC+) have been the other major weapons at the top of the Nationals lineup. Turner gets on base and hits for more power than you would expect. Soto has been an on base machine with an OBP approaching .400. His power has evaporated over the last year with a pretty average .154 ISO.

Ryan Zimmerman has been forced into more playing time due to injuries but he’s responded with big power. He’s hit nine homers in 142 plate appearances and is putting up a 117 wRC+ despite posting an OBP below .300.

Josh Harrison (101 wRC+), Josh Bell (95 wRC+), Yan Gomes (91 wRC+), and Victor Robles (85 wRC+) have been solid contributors offensively.

Starlin Castro (72 wRC+) has been pushed into a much larger role due to injuries and has been around replacement level. Recently they recalled Gerrardo Parra who became a fan favorite thanks to his choice of Baby Shark as his walkup song.

The Nationals defense has been very strong, ranking sixth by both DRS (+31) and UZR (+7.8).

The Nationals have come back from a very slow start

A slow start for the Nationals seems like the expectation, but they have been able to rebound in the recent past. In 2019 they were 19-31 through 50 game yet ended up winning 93 games on their way to winning the World Series. A few weeks ago they were 26-35, but now sit at 38-38 and only are 3.0 games behind the New York Mets in the National League East.

The good news for the Rays is they avoid having to face Max Scherzer. The Nationals are still, however, a solid team that can’t be taken lightly.