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Series Preview: Rays vs. Nationals

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Although you could say the Rays have cooled off after a 4-3 road trip, they remain tied with the San Francisco Giants for the best record in the majors.

The Rays hold a 0.5 game advantage over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jays sit 6.0 games back and the New York Yankees have fallen to 6.5 games back.

The Washington Nationals enter the two game set at Tropicana Field with a record of 24-32, 7.0 games back of the New York Mets in the National League East. Even though the Nationals record isn’t where they would like it they still have a talented club that wants to remind you that in 2019 they were 19-31 before going on a run that ended in a World Series victory.


Tuesday 7:10 PM: Jon Lester vs Tyler Glasnow
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Patrick Corbin vs Shane McClanahan

Jon Lester is spending his first season in Washington after a long career with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. He led both teams to a World Series victory. He’s not the pitcher he was a decade ago, but he’s still a useful veteran who can throw solid innings. In 2021 he has posted a 4.37 ERA/4.60 FIP/4.63 xFIP. His strikeout rate has fallen to 16.9% while his walk rate has risen to 8.1%. Lester uses a 87.1 mph cutter and 88.9 mph four-seam fastball as his primary weapons. He will try to steal strikes early in the count with a 73.0 mph curveball that isn’t a swing and miss pitch. Against right handed batters he will throw a 82.0 mph changeup.

Patrick Corbin was a major contributor as one of three very good starting pitchers that led the Nationals to the 2019 World Series Championship. However his last two seasons have been very disappointing. 2021 in particular has been very bad. He has a 6.28 ERA/5.55 FIP/4.31 xFIP over 57.1 innings. In his last three starts he has given up four runs in each while not being able to get out of the sixth inning. His strikeout rate is down to 18.0% while his walk rate has spiked to 8.8%. That’s not a great combination especially when you add in 12 homers (24.5% HR/FB rate). Corbin throws two fastballs that combine to represent almost 60% of his pitch selection. He throws a 91.4 mph sinker and 91.5 mph four-seam fastball. His major swing and miss weapon is a 79.4 mph slider that he will throw to all batters around 35% of the time. He will rarely throw a 80.5 mph changeup to right handed batters, but hasn’t thrown one to a left handed batter since 2016.

The Nationals offense is missing power.

The .247 batting average and .317 on base percentage posted by National hitters both rank in the top ten in the league. However their .138 ISO comes in third to last only ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. Their 215 runs scored (3.83 runs per game) ranks sixth worst.

Juan Soto (133 wRC+, 7 HR) and Trea Turner (130 wRC+) have put up very good seasons, but they haven’t been good enough to carry the rest of the offense.

Ryan Zimmerman (137 wRC+, 6 HR), Josh Harrison (104 wRC+, 4 HR), and Kyle Schwarber (99 wRC+, 9 HR) have been solid contributors.

Josh Bell (88 wRC+, 8 HR) hasn’t built up on his 2019 breakout.

Starlin Castro (69 wRC+, 2 HR) has been a major disappointment and forced into more playing time than his production has warranted. His 229 plate appearances trail only Turner’s 246.

The Nationals have been very good defensively. Their +23 DRS and +8.7 UZR rank sixth and fourth in the league respectively.

Rays look to pick up some wins in a short homestand.

The Rays get two off days this week (Monday and Thursday) including two games against the Nationals and three against the Baltimore Orioles this weekend.

The Rays are exactly where they would want to be. They lead the American League and have banked some wins with 101 games to go, but remaining on top of their division means never taking the foot off the accelerator.