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Washington Nationals Series Preview: The nation’s capital comes calling

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The sweet relief of the All-Star break is just three days away.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Detroit Tigers
Jun 30, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) celebrates with the bat boy while rounding the bases after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals finish their first half in the nation’s capital with a three-game set against the Washington Nationals. The timing isn’t great as the Nationals are playing so much better and are going to make this a three-team race in the National League East. At one time it looked like Washington would be big sellers as they sat 10 games out of first with a 19-31 record. Since then, they’ve gone 26-10 and have flexed their muscles with a really strong core of position players and outstanding starting pitching. The bullpen is still a problem that they’re trying to figure out, but they really haven’t found too many answers. If their starters work deep into games, it’s obviously less of a problem, but that’s the weak underbelly of this team as it seems to be every single year.

Meet the Nationals

Royals vs. Nationals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Nationals
Category Royals Nationals
Winning % .330 .523
Team wRC+ 86 95
Team xFIP 4.96 4.27
Run Differential -84 23
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 2.4 Max Scherzer, 5.1

Nationals Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Trea Turner SS 215 .279 .340 .477 7.9% 24.7% 108 0.9
Adam Eaton RF 360 .275 .359 .377 10.3% 16.4% 96 0.9
Anthony Rendon 3B 311 .310 .395 .627 10.6% 15.4% 156 3.4
Juan Soto LF 328 .297 .402 .543 14.6% 22.3% 143 1.9
Ryan Zimmerman 1B 102 .222 .304 .356 10.8% 20.6% 73 -0.1
Brian Dozier 2B 297 .231 .313 .436 9.8% 24.2% 92 0.7
Yan Gomes C 192 .211 .297 .304 9.4% 22.9% 56 -0.2
Victor Robles CF 320 .243 .317 .432 5.3% 24.4% 93 0.8

Nationals Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kurt Suzuki C 170 .272 .312 .506 4.1% 14.1% 107 0.5
Matt Adams 1B/OF 170 .242 .276 .534 4.7% 30.0% 101 0.3
Howie Kendrick INF/OF 227 .322 .374 .559 7.5% 13.2% 137 1.5
Gerardo Parra OF/1B 182 .223 .286 .367 6.0% 20.9% 68 0.0
Adrian Sanchez (Fri Only) INF 17 .235 .235 .235 0.0% 41.4% 19 -0.1

Nationals Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Sean Doolittle 38 36.0 5 2 27.7% 6.9% 3.25 4.84 1.2
Tanner Rainey 20 18.0 1 3 32.9% 15.9% 5.00 4.01 -0.1
Wander Suero 39 36.1 1 4 30.1% 7.7% 5.45 3.61 0.6

Probable Pitching Matchups

Friday July 5th - 6:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 18 105.0 4 9 16.3% 10.9% 4.63 5.09 1.3
Austin Voth 2 10.1 0 0 23.3% 4.7% 4.35 4.61 0.1

Austin Voth hasn’t pitched much for the big club, but in his two starts, he’s shown increased velocity over last season, which has led to better results in an admittedly tiny sample. After not being especially impressive in AAA, the Nationals turned to him due to injuries and ineffectiveness from their number five starter and he’s had a solid couple turns. He’s never going to be anything special, but he throws strikes and gets some swings and misses, which allows him to be pretty okay. The fastball is up a full two miles per hour from last year, and in the small sample has been really good for him. The Nationals fifth round pick in 2013, Voth has been a pretty good organizational soldier who, this year, has had a lot of trouble with left-handed bats. Maybe that bodes well for guys like Alex Gordon, Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez with lefties hitting .321/.366/.557 off Voth in the majors and minors combined this year.

Brad Keller had a bit of a weird start against the Blue Jays. He went five innings and the line looks bad with six runs allowed on eight hits, but he was a fly ball lost in the sun away from probably getting to go six or seven with just one run allowed. With runners on second and third and two out, the Blue Jays number nine hitter hit a fly ball that Jorge Soler completely lost. Two runs scored and then Keller lost some composure (that part is his fault) and ended up giving up five in the inning when it should have been over. That’s not to say he was good, but I think the line is slightly misleading. He’s been a different pitcher recently, allowing more fly balls than ground balls in three of his last four starts. It looked like he was getting back to his ground ball ways against Cleveland in the start before last, but rain cut it short and then he reverted back in Toronto, so we’ll see how this one goes as we head into the break.

Saturday July 6th - 3:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Glenn Sparkman 16 58.1 2 4 12.1% 5.9% 4.09 5.66 -0.4
Max Scherzer 18 122.1 8 5 34.8% 4.5% 2.43 2.87 5.1

Max Scherzer is #good. I suppose I could just stop there, but he’s too impressive not to talk about. He’s on his way to his seventh straight season of 200 or more innings and his sixth season in seven years with an ERA below 3.00. He’s struck out at least 231 batters in each of the last seven years and has 170 already this year, so that number is about to be eight. His control is as good as ever. He’s giving up fewer home runs than ever and his strikeout rate is currently a career high. Yes, he’s somehow gotten better at age-34. The smart money is to never, ever bet against him. His last eight starts have been absolutely ridiculous. He’s thrown 57 innings, allowed 36 hits, struck out 83 and walked eight. He has an 18 percent swinging strike rate in those starts and isn’t even benefiting from particularly good BABIP luck as that number sits at .273. He’s on one right now, and the Royals are caught in the cross-hairs. He struck out 14 in his last start and has gotten 10 or more in five of his last six starts with the only exception being a game he struck out nine. What he’s doing is simply stupid and borderline unfair. I have gone over the splits a dozen time to find something for the Royals to hang their hats on against him, and the best I have is that he’s allowed a .297/.333/.405 line in the first inning, so I guess hope to get him then? I don’t know. This is one of those games as a Royals fan that you watch because you know it’s fun to see greatness and not because you think your team has a real chance to win.

The Royals will counter the best pitcher on the planet with Glenn Sparkman. I considered stopping this right there as well, but I’ll go on. Sparkman had gotten some really good results in some really unsustainable ways. In his first 36 innings as a starter this season, he posted a 3.19 ERA. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that without the swings and misses, he likely wouldn’t be able to maintain that. In his last 4.2 innings, he’s posted a 23.14 ERA with two strikeouts and two walks. I love the mid-90s fastball. The changeup can be really good. He just misses in the middle of the plate too much. I will never fault the Royals, as a bad team, for trying guys in the rotation to see if they can make it work, but I think Sparkman’s future is in a middle relief role, maybe elevating as high as a seventh-inning guy. I think the stuff plays in the bullpen in a mid-leverage role, but him as a starter just isn’t ideal. My guess is he gets another shot, but if he falters again we might see Brian Flynn or even Eric Skoglund get his next turn through the rotation.

Sunday July 7th - 12:35pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 18 99.1 4 8 20.7% 8.1% 5.53 4.73 0.6
Patrick Corbin 17 106.1 7 5 27.3% 7.6% 3.55 3.80 2.3

The death of Tyler Skaggs hit the entire baseball world hard. Patrick Corbin, by all accounts, was very close with Skaggs, being drafted with him, pitching with him in the minors and even being traded with him. On the day after his passing, Corbin put on the number 45 that Skaggs wore instead of his typical 46 and pitched extremely well in what was assuredly an emotional game for him. He went seven innings, striking out seven and walking nobody with just one run allowed. After signing a six year, $140 million deal, he’s been good, but maybe a little uneven this season after his 2018 breakout with the Diamondbacks. He’s gone exactly seven innings and given up exactly one run in three consecutive starts now with tons of swings and misses and he’s just been really good after a rough patch at the end of May and the beginning of June. His slider is THE pitch for him. He’s allowed a .168 average and .275 slugging percentage on it with a stupid 49.2 percent whiff rate. He may or may not be on, but if he is, I could see him striking out well into the double digits against a Royals lineup that is occasionally susceptible to a pitcher like him.

Jakob Junis will get a chance to redeem himself from his last start, which was a little weird for him. He gave up seven runs over 4.2 innings, but the weird part was he did it without allowing a home run. Generally when he avoids the long ball, he does pretty well, but he gave up five singles and a double and was hurt by an error that led to his short and unsuccessful outing. After a decent stretch where he lowed his ERA by about half a run, he’s struggled in his his last two against the Indians and is now facing a Nationals lineup that is better than what Cleveland puts out. This has been a disappointing year for Junis, so it would be nice if he could end the first half on a high note. It’s worth mentioning that he has been better after the break in his career. Last year, he posted a 3.35 ERA over 75.1 innings after the break and put up a 3.55 ERA in 63.1 innings in 2017 after the break. Maybe the Royals should just give him a few days off in early April and get the post-break benefit all season.

Prediction

I think the Royals fall flat on their faces heading into the All-Star break. I wish I felt differently, but I think they get swept here. They might get lucky and win one, but Corbin and Scherzer are just so tough that they’ll likely have to get it in game one if they do.

Poll

Three more games, how do the Royals fare?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Royals Sweep
    (1 vote)
  • 54%
    Nationals Sweep
    (38 votes)
  • 2%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (2 votes)
  • 41%
    Nationals Win Two of Three
    (29 votes)
70 votes total Vote Now