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Series Preview #34: Diamondbacks @ Nationals

The Diamondbacks try to regain momentum in a 4-game series against the sputtering Nationals.

Nick looks confused
Nick looks confused
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Diamondbacks (50-53) @ Washington Nationals (54-49)

The Diamondbacks have lost 2 in a row after their season high 6 game winning streak, leaving them at a record 3 games below .500. You can complain all you want about the Astros weird stadium layour being unfair to the D-Backs, or that the strike zone was bad in Sunday's game, but the fact is Arizona was outscored 13-3 in those last 2 games. A normal ballpark or better umpire isn't going to cause a 10 run swing. The series loss puts them 9 games out of first in the West, and 6.5 out of a wild card spot. Going into Sunday's game, Baseball Prospectus had Arizona with a 2% chance of making the postseason, which I believe calls for something from one of my favorite movies... 

Just 5 games above .500, Washington has been one of the most disappointing teams in the Majors. The team who many had picked to win the World Series has just been swept by the Mets. If the Nats did not play in the weak NL East, they would actually be 2.5 games out of a wild card spot, and well out of a division lead. Instead, they are currently tied with the Mets for first, and have 8 games of separation between themselves and the third place Braves. The big problem for Washington lately has been their offense. In their last 7 games, they have failed to score more than 2 runs 6 times. They're not going to get to use newly acquired Papelbon very much if they can't get to the 9th with a lead.

Good News

  • The Diamondbacks have had no problems getting hits over the past week, with 5 guys batting .300 or better the last 7 days. Among those 5 guys are Paul Goldschmidt (batting a modest .500) and Welington Castillo (batting .400)
  • Lamb might be finding his swing again. In his last 5 starts, he has had 15 total bases.
  • Over the last 2 weeks, the Nationals have struck out at the highest rate in the Majors, at a lofty 25%. 0.4% behind them in second place is... the Diamondbacks.
  • The Nationals have hit terribly in the last 2 weeks, with a league worst .216 batting average. They also hold the 4th worst OBP in the majors over that time frame, .286. We could not be playing the Nationals at a better time.

Bad News

  • Yasmany Tomas has a K rate of 42.5% and a walk rate of 2.5% in his last 10 games. This is not including his 0-for-4 with 2 K's on Sunday, so that K rate is actually a little higher than 42.5%.
  • Nick Ahmed returned to April Nick in the month of July, with a triple slash of .157/.197/.229. I hate to say it, but it wouldn't be a terrible idea to give Cliff Pennington some starts at short, who had a triple slash of .278/.308/.361.
  • There will be no more bad news because the Diamondbacks need all the optimism they can get to have a remote chance at making the playoffs (see picture above).

(Note: all good news/bad news stats do not include Sunday's game, unless otherwise stated)

Injury Report

A.J Pollock was removed from Friday's game with tightness in his right hamstring, and did not play in Saturday or Sunday's games. Hopefully this is nothing serious, and the team was keeping him out of the games for precautionary reasons. Both Chase Anderson and catcher Gerald Laird start their rehab assignments on Monday, and both will not play in this series. Still nothing new on neither utility man Phil Gosselin or pitcher Archie Bradley.

Pitcher Stephen Strasburg is making a rehab start on Monday, and will not be with the Nationals for this series. Dodged a bullet there. Outfielder Denard Span, who has been out for a while with back tightness, has resumed baseball activities, but should not be back with the Nationals for this series.

Bullpen Status

I doubt we will see Josh Collmenter until Wednesday, who threw 76 pitches in mop up duty Saturday. Everyone else should be feeling good for Monday.

Lefty Felipe Rivero threw 32 pitches on Sunday, so Washington would probably prefer not to use him on Monday. He has been good for the Nats this year, with a 1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings this year.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Zack Godley RHP (2-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) vs Doug Fister RHP (4-6, 4.39 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)

Godley threw another quality start on Tuesday, when he went 6 innings, allowed 3 runs, and gave up 7 hits and 3 walks. You'd like to see Godley limit some of that traffic on the bases, allowing 10 base runners is going to get you in trouble eventually. He has done an exceptional job of getting out of trouble this year, having left 98% of guys on base this year. We will see this number come down eventually, since league average is down at 73%. When this happens, expect that ERA to go up.

Fister's second season has a Nationals has been the worst full season of his career, both traditionally and sabermetrically (his 4.36 FIP is the worst of his career, excluding his debut season where he just pitched 11 games). A big reason for this is his fastball velocity, which has dropped 2 MPH from last year. He now just has a 7 MPH difference between his fastball and change up, which is problematic when those are your primary pitches. This game is the D-Backs' best chance of a win.

Game 2: Patrick Corbin LHP (2-3, 3.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) vs Max Scherzer (11-8, 2.22 ERA, 0.83 WHIP)

Corbin seems to be getting better and better as the year goes on. In his last game, he allowed just one run, a season low 3 hits, and lasted 6 innings. This year, Corbin has seen about a 5% jump in both K's and ground balls, both good to see. I can't wait until next year when the coaching staff lets him go deep into games. It'll be nice to finally have an ace on the staff.

Scherzer is without a doubt a leading Cy Young candidate in the NL. He's third in ERA, 2nd in pitcher fWAR, 2nd in K/9, and leads the NL in WHIP. Scherzer is a heavy fly-ball pitchers, with a 46% fly ball rate. Despite this fly ball rate, Max has done a great job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, allowing just 0.76 HR per 9. In his only start this year against Arizona, Scherzer went 7 innings and allowed 1 run. I'd say it'll be an uphill battle for Arizona in this one, though they are helped by the fact Corbin is on the mound.

Game 3: Rubby de la Rosa RHP (8-5, 4.59 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) vs Gio Gonzalez LHP (8-4, 3.75 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)

You know the drill with Rubby by now. Great "stuff", and he'll either be great or terrible. I have no idea what we will see. Interesting stat on Rubby: When he allows either 1 or 0 home runs, he has a 2.17 ERA. When he allows 2 or more homers, he has a 10.13 ERA. While it makes sense a pitcher would have a higher ERA when they allow more homers (duh), that large of a difference seems unusual.

Gio is having the unluckiest season of his career, where his opposing BABIP of .340 is 48 points higher than his career BABIP. Despite this, he is still a very good pitcher for Washington, and has allowed just 6 earned runs in his last 6 starts. Not too shabby. Something very strange when you look at Gonzalez's batted ball rates is his 57% groundball rate, which is 11% higher than his career rate. Not really sure what this means, just kind of interesting. Because of the unknown with Rubby, I'm giving the advantage to Washington on Wednesday.

Game 4: Jeremy Hellickson RHP (7-7, 4.95 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) vs Joe Ross (2-3, 2.00 ERA, 0.92 WHIP)

Unlike Rubby, Hellickson normally ranges from okay to bad. He has made just 3 starts out of 20 this year where he allowed 1 run or fewer, and has made 7 where he allows 4 or more. Probably not the ratio of good to bad starts you're looking for Jeremy. His last outing was probably his worst of the season, where he allowed 7 runs, 6 of those runs coming from homers. He really needs to turn things around, or he may lose his spot to Chase Anderson when he comes back.

In his second stint filling in for Strasburg, Joe Ross is continuing to succeed. Ross has not allowed more than 3 runs in his 6 big league starts this year, all that the Nats could ask for from the rookie. One sign that hitters might be catching on to him is that in his first 4 starts he allowed 0 home runs. However, in his last 2 starts he has allowed 3 homers. I might be reading too much into this, but the fact that hitters are squaring him up now bodes well for Arizona. Advantage Nats in this game.


The X-Factor in this one is A.J. Pollock. The Diamondbacks need him in the lineup playing well to have a chance against the Nationals.

For the Nats, the X-Factor is Bryce Harper. When he is on, he can carry a team all by himself.

Series Prediction

Despite the Nationals recent struggles, I still think they are a much better all around team than Arizona. D-Backs win 1 of 4.