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Series Preview #20: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Washington Nationals

After yet another thrilling comeback win, the Diamondbacks hope to keep rolling for four games against the Washington Nationals.  Now, there are some teams in baseball that fans almost can't help but know tons about, thanks to the sports wing of the Fourth Estate.  Did the Yankees just beat the Orioles in extra innings?  Boom!  They're the hottest team in baseball, baby!  Did the Red Sox lose their first seven games?  The sky is falling!  But win or lose, there are a few teams that they mainstream sports media makes a habit of focusing on.

The Washington Nationals are not one of these teams. However, they were as recently as last year, when that Stephen Strasburg fellow came up and caused quite a tumult.  But he underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of last season, and the Nationals have faded back into obscurity.  As a result, I really don't know much about them in 2011.  But, in true sportswriter form, that's not going to stop me from making unfounded claims about them after the jump!

Everyone around the Washington Nationals went into this year with the understanding that it would likely be a gap year before Strasburg returns and 2010 top draft pick Bryce Harper prepares to join the team.  You know, the sort of year where a team keeps payroll low, gives the young players a chance, and hopes to be competitive next year? 

Well, the Nationals' Front Office apparently decided, "That's cool, but we're going to go ahead and do the exact opposite of that."  Possibly fueled by a desire to remain relevant in the wake of the Strasburg injury, the Nationals made headlines for giving Jayson Werth, generally considered to be a solid but unspectacular right fielder, a 7 year, $126 million (!) contract in the winter. 

This maneuver worked just about well as could be expected, and the Nationals find themselves in a familiar position: last place in the NL East.  The offense has struggled around their 126 Million Dollar Man, and the pitching, while above-average, has not quite been good enough to compensate.  The team is a bizarre patchwork of semi-familiar veterans, an almost-exciting young core, and obligatory replacement-level players to throw in when players from the first two categories underwhelm.  As such, the team has limited major-league talent and very little financial flexibility.  Does this sound harsh?  It's mostly because I have a hunch that the Nationals are going to be really good in about three years when Strasburg and Harper are established, and I just want to get in on the hate a little early.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs)

                        Arizona (31-25)                                Washington (24-31)                                        Edge

Hitting (wRC+):    96                                                     85                                                       Arizona

Pitching (FIP):    4.12                                                  3.84                                                 Washington

Fielding (UZR):  16.9                                                   11.7                                                     Arizona

Yeah, the Nationals' offense has been pretty dismal this season.  Perhaps they should consider transferring to the NL West.  They'd fit right in.  Their main problem appears to be an inability to get on base, as their team OBP is .302, third-worst in Major League Baseball.  As I mentioned above, their pitching is surprisingly good, given that their rotation reads like a list of runners-up in the "Most Mediocre Pageant: 2007 Edition."  Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny and Jason Marquis aren't going to strike fear into the hearts of anyone, but they've been solid enough and the bullpen has been a strong point, with an FIP of 3.60. 

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Ryan Roberts, 3B
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Chris Young, CF
Miguel Montero, C
Juan Miranda
, 1B
Gerardo Parra, LF

Washington Nationals

Roger Bernadina, CF
Ian Desmond, SS
Jayson Werth, RF
Laynce Nix, LF
Mike Morse, 1B
Danny Espinosa, 2B
Wilson Ramos, C
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B

The Nationals are currently missing both of their starting corner infielders, so we miss the opportunity to see their Face of the Franchise 3B Ryan Zimmerman, as well as former Diamondback Adam LaRoche.  The Nationals do still have some interesting young talent though, in the form of Desmond, Espinosa, and Ramos.  Ramos and Espinosa have been revelations this season, as both have flourished in their first full seasons in the majors putting up an OPS+ of 105 and 112, respectively.  Desmond has struggled however, with a slash line of .228/.270/.354 in his sophomore season. 

Elsewhere, Roger Bernadina mans center field, after taking the position from a ineffective Rick Ankiel.  His .301 OBP probably isn't helping the cause as a lead-off man, but he runs fast and he "looks like a lead-off man, dammit," so he leads off.  Laynce Nix, who is a 30 year old career platoon outfielder who has never gotten more than 400 PAs in a season, bats cleanup.  Even more amazingly, it sort of makes sense, as Nix leads the team with a 148 OPS+ so far.  While Zimmerman is injured, Jerry Hairston and Alex Cora form the most boring platoon imaginable at third base.  With an OPS of .782, Jason Werth is having a pretty decent season, but he isn't hitting like Matt Holliday.  Which is fine, no one expects him to hit like Matt Holliday...except for the Nationals, who paid him considerably more than Matt Holliday.

Pitching Matchups:

Thursday: Zach Duke (1-0, 0.00) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (2-6, 3.88)

Insightful Commentary: Zach Duke set the bar pretty high for himself in his first outing, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Astros, and hitting a three-run homer to boot.  In my experience, any time a pitcher knocks in more runs than he gives up, he's done good.  He's not likely to entirely replicate that performance, but he throws strikes consistently and has a good chance for his second straight quality start against a weak offense.

Jordan Zimmermann has been the Nationals' best pitcher this season, as his 3.88 ERA looks better when you consider that he has a 2.77 FIP.  His key is not walking anyone, as his BB/9 is a mere 1.92.  Zimmermann's had some injuries in the past, but is still only 25 and should be solid for years to come.

Friday: Josh Collmenter (3-1, 1.49) vs. Yunesky Maya (0-0, 7.71)

Insightful Commentary: I've officially adopted a "wait and see" approach on Josh Collmenter.  Hitters are making a ton of contact on his pitches, but it's very poor contact, as the 21.7 IFFB% suggests.  I still don't think he can keep this up long term, but I'd love to be wrong about that, or at the very least not be proven right for the next few months.

Yunesky Maya is making his seventh career start in the majors on Friday at age 29.  Normally, this should scream "replacement-level fodder," but evidently Maya is better than that.  Fangraphs Marc Hulet ranked him eight on his list of Nationals prospects last year and refers to him as a "highly touted Cuban hurler."  He's only made one start this season, going 4.2 innings and giving up 4 runs against the Padres, so I'll defer to Mr. Hulet's wisdom on this one.

Saturday: Joe Saunders (2-5, 4.77) vs. Livan Hernandez (3-6, 3.87)

Insightful Commentary: I honestly can't think of a less interesting pitching matchup than this one.  Seriously, I've been sitting at my computer for five minutes the best I can come up with is Rodrigo Lopez vs. the re-animated corpse of Enrique Gonzalez.  Umm, ok...Joe Saunders pitched alright his last time out, giving up four runs in six innings in a performance no one noticed because the team scored 15 runs.  He continues to get good results with poor peripherals, which is fine unless the results change.  Then I'll be annoyed.

The official report is that Hernandez is 36 years old.  Don't believe it.  Livan Hernandez is literally older than Time itself.  Seriously, when Richard Alpart from Lost got to The Island, he saw Livan Hernandez standing on the shore, practicing his 42 mph curveball.

Sunday: Ian Kennedy (6-2, 3.16) vs. Jason Marquis (6-2, 4.13)

Insightful Commentary: Kennedy struggled his last time out.  Sure there's no shame in getting out-dueled by Anibal Sanchez, but the way that it happened was unsettling.  Three walks, two wild pitches and a hit batter.  Kennedy's game is pure control, and when he has it, he may as well be a surgeon with his precision.  When it leaves him though, he suddenly looks very pedestrian, and it's unsettling to see.

Jason Marquis really hasn't been a very good pitcher throughout his career.  With the exception of one season in Colorado, he's never had an fWAR above 2 in a season.  But he's a winner (read: lucky) and he pitched well down the stretch for the Cardinals when the won the World Series, so he keeps finding a job.  He's actually pitching fairly well this season however, as his FIP of 3.78 would be the lowest in his career if he keeps it up.

Final Verdict: I said the Diamondbacks would have a 5-2 week during the round-table, and it wouldn't be particularly sporting of me to back down now.  The Nationals have a middling offense, and the Diamondbacks appear to hold pitching advantages in most of these games, so I'll say Diamondbacks three games to one.


Head over to Federal Baseball for all your Nationals needs.

(All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.)

Current Series

4 game series vs Nationals @ Chase Field

Washington Nationals
@ Arizona Diamondbacks

Thursday, Jun 2, 2011, 9:40 PM EDT
Chase Field

Jordan Zimmermann vs Zach Duke

Partly cloudy. Winds blowing out to right field at 10-15 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 90.

Complete Coverage >

Fri 06/03 9:40 PM EDT
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