Arizona Diamondbacks (43-62) vs Washington Nationals (61-44)
As I type this sentence, the D-Backs are down 14-3 to the Dodgers in the 8th inning. Barring the most amazing comeback ever, this loss will cap a 7-17 July with a -45 run differential, one of the worst months they have had in franchise history. I have a feeling that you have seen and read enough to know that the D-Backs are bad, so let’s get to their opponent.
State of the Nationals
Now that the Nationals aren’t expected to be the best team in the NL, they are performing much better than they have in years past. They are second in the NL in both winning percentage and run differential, and have a 4 game lead over the Marlins for the NL East lead. The team has been led by one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, who are second in runs allowed per game (3.54). It has certainly helped that their starting rotation has stayed healthy the entire year with the exception of Joe Ross, who has been out since the beginning of July. The offense has been as good as they need to be, 11th in the majors in runs scored per game. The biggest name in the lineup, Bryce Harper, has actually just been okay this year. The power is there, but his batting average is down to just .234. Daniel Murphy, who you may recall homering every night for the Mets in the postseason last year, has been their top hitter, with a batting average of .351 and 20 homers. Catcher Wilson Ramos is also having an excellent year, his average well above .300. Beyond those three, you get to a bunch of league average or below league average hitters.
- Yasmany Tomas has been tearing it up, with an OPS of 1.195 in the past 2 weeks. Other hot hitters include Jean Segura (.367 batting average) and Goldy (.318/.412/.409).
- Bryce Harper is batting .102 in the second half. The D-Backs are facing him at a perfect time.
- Jake Lamb has disappeared since being snubbed from the all-star team, with a .256 OBP in the second half. Other slumping hitters include Brandon Drury, Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed, and Welington Castillo. All have batting averages under .220.
- D-Backs relievers have an ERA of 5.83 in July. Atrocious.
The D-Backs have a plethora of guys on the injury list... Socrates Brito and Chris Hermann are eligible to come back whenever, and will probably return in the next week or two... Nick Ahmed is not able to return for another week... Pitchers Zack Greinke, Andrew Chafin, and Rubby de la Rosa are in the process of either bullpen sessions or rehab assignments... and finally, A.J. Pollock will probably be able to return sometime in August.
Nationals’ second baseman David Murphy is day-to-day with tightness in his legs, it is unclear if he’ll be in the lineup for this series... Pitcher Joe Ross and infielder Stephen Drew (he’s on the Nationals now???) are both on the DL and will be unable to return for this series.
Game 1: Archie Bradley RHP (4-6, 4.17 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) vs Stephen Strasburg RHP (14-1, 2.68 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Archie has put together a nice string of starts, 3 of his last 4 being 6+ innings and 2 or less runs. He’s walking batters at a rate that’s higher than ideal, but if it’s getting results nobody can complain. This will be the first start in his career against Washington. Of the three starters the D-Backs have going this series, he is who I have the most faith in.
Strasburg is in the midst of his best pro season, at least ERA wise. In 5 of his last 6 starts he either allowed one or no runs, so you could say he’s doing alright. The last time he pitched against Arizona (May of last year), he allowed 8 runs in 3.1 innings, so who knows, maybe a miracle happens. The D-Backs have done pretty well against aces, for whatever reason. Still though, huge advantage to the Nats.
Game 2: Robbie Ray LHP (5-10, 4.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) vs Tanner Roark RHP (10-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
It’s too bad Ray isn’t pitching against Strasburg, because then we could invent a fun narrative. Oh well. Ray has back to back double digit strikeout games heading into Tuesday, so that’s notable. The downside is that both those games still resulted in a loss for him, making his strikeout total less cool.
After some time in the bullpen last season, Roark has taken on a full time starting role this year, and has excelled. A key to his success has been low home run totals: his 0.59 HR/9 rate is 6th best among qualified pitchers. He also consistently provides a lot of length in his starts, going 6+ innings in 17 of his 21 starts this year. Big advantage to the Nationals.
Game 3: Zack Godley RHP (3-1, 5.63 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) vs Max Scherzer RHP (11-6, 2.85 ERA, 0.94 WHIP)
Godley is not making a good case to be in the rotation next season, with a 6.23 in his 4 July starts. Another poor outing on Wednesday could guarantee that he is one of the pitchers sent down when Greinke and De La Rosa return.
Once again, Max Scherzer is putting up some absolutely dominant numbers. His strikeout to walk ratio is 5th in the majors, WHIP is second behind only Clayton Kershaw... you can go on and on. If you wanted to find a "weakness", it would be his vulnerability to the long ball: his HR/9 ratio is a bit above league average. If he is able to keep the ball in the park though, it’s tough to get even one run against him.
Keys to the Series
Can the D-Backs score runs?- It’s going to be extremely difficult to score off one of the best pitching staffs in the game. Unfortunately, I have a feeling a lot of runs will be needed.
Can the D-Backs bullpen not be horrible?- Their ERA was an abysmal 5.83 in July. Come on.
Despite how much the odds are stacked against the D-Backs, this feels like a series where they pull something out of their behind and get the series win.