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Preview, #29: Arizona Diamondbacks @ Washington Nationals

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Winning the opening game put the D-backs in a good position. But there's work to be done.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Lineups

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WASHINGTON NATIONALS
A.J. Pollock - CF Trea Turner - SS
Chris Owings - RF Jayson Werth - LF
Paul Goldschmidt - 1B Bryce Harper - RF
Jake Lamb - 3B Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
Yasmany Tomas - LF Daniel Murphy - 2B
Brandon Drury - 2B Anthony Rendon - 3B
Nick Ahmed - SS Michael Taylor - CF
Jeff Mathis - C Matt Wieters - C
Robbie Ray - LHP Gio Gonzalez - LHP

Arizona now need just to split the two remaining games, to leave Washington with what would be a very impressive series win, on the road, over the team with the best record in the National League. But it isn't going to be easy, not least with Braden Shipley having to face the nuclear heat of this line-up in his 2017 MLB debut tomorrow, so it's probably best if Ray takes care of business this afternoon. On the face of it, the Nationals have the pitching edge, with Gonzalez having posted a stellar 1.60 ERA thus far, less than half that of Ray's 3.56. But if you pick apart the peripherals, this one becomes a great deal closer.

Gonzalez still has an edge in FIP, but it's a lot narrower: he's at 3.70, compared to 3.83 for Ray. The Washington pitcher benefits from a much better walk-rate, below three per nine innings, while our guy is north of five; Gonzalez has also done a better job of keeping the ball in the park and that balances out Ray's advantage in strikeouts. But if you look at xFIP, which uses an "average" home-run rate, then Ray comes out on top by quite a distance, 3.34 to 4.19. That gives you a clue as to the keys to the game here: Robbie needs to keep the ball in the park, and in the strike zone. The latter is especially important against a potent offense like this, because you can ill-afford to give Washington free base-runners.

It'd be good if our hitters can do as good a job as yesterday, in terms of running up Gonzalez's pitch-count. Last night's 125-pitch outing for Roark was the most by an opposing starter against Arizona since Gil Meche's 132-pitch game in 2009 - and that was a complete-game. The last pitcher to need that many pitches for only six innings was Livan Hernandez, all the way back in 2001. With the Nationals' bullpen looking increasingly like their Achilles' Heel, the sooner we can get into it, the better, as we saw last night, with valuable insurance runs being delivered late. More of the same today would be very welcome.