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Series Preview # 36: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Today is the first day of the rest of your season

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With the cloud of the trade deadline finally behind them, the Diamondbacks can get back to the business of trying to claim a Wild Card spot. The Manager and some of the players have openly admitted that the “buy/sell” scenarios being played out in everyone’s minds and in the media weighed on them. They are human. It’s only natural. They’ve been playing tight as a result, making mistakes in the field and on the mound, and failing to hit in the most critical moments.

But it’s over now. With one big exception, the Major League team is intact and a couple of pieces have been added. While the DBacks have not done well in these situations against head to head Wild Card rivals over the past month or so, they couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to right their ship and get back in the race with this home stand against Washington and then Philadelphia.

As for us fans, without worry about the team making foolish buy moves to mortgage the future, I think we can all settle in together and root for the team to succeed. They have nothing to lose by winning. Nor do we. So lets Go !

Standings as of this morning

The Nationals were one of the hottest teams in baseball, but have lost five of their last seven and are now in a two way tie with the Phillies in 2nd place in the NL East, 7 GB of Atlanta. They are in a three way tie for the Wild Card with the Phillies and the Cubs.

Comparing Records:

When you look at the above table it doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance. Why do the Nationals have a better record than the DBacks ? The run differential is almost the same, with an edge to Arizona. We often look at 1 run game records, but I added the record for Margin of 2-4 runs, and also blowouts. The DBacks are 29-43 when the margin is less than 5 runs, while the Nationals are 44-36. Simply put, they are playing better in closer games. The Dbacks have run up their run differential and overall W-L record in blowout games.

The DBacks have also played far more games against teams with over .500 record and the Nationals have run up their record against sub .500 teams. They are doing a better job of taking care of business when they are “supposed to win”.

Comparing Offense:

Overall, these have been two pretty evenly matched teams on offense, and both offenses are above league average. The runs, the rate or average stats, are all pretty close. Where they diverge is WHEN they hit. The leverage stats correlate to the W-L record breakdowns by margin in the first chart.

As can be seen on the Nationals Baseball Reference Page their biggest hitting stars have of course been Anthony Rendon (154 OPS+) and second year player Juan Soto (134 OPS+). DBack Killer Howie Kendrick (.344/.401/.497 lifetime vs. AZ) continues to be a top flight hitter as well with a .316 BA and a 125 OPS+ in a part time role. Those three have also been their hottest hitters of late

Team Defense

A team strength for the DBacks for the last several years. This obviously helps keep pitching staff runs allowed and ERA down. This is why, despite having similar team ERA, the Nationals have the best pitcher WAR in the NL while DBacks are middle of the pack. When you strip out defense altogether (Fangraphs WAR), or adjust for Defense (Baseball Reference WAR), the DBacks pitchers take a hit in those metrics while the Nationals Pitchers get big bumps. Imagine if the Nationals pitchers played in front of the Diamondbacks defense ?

Bullpen Pitching:

At 5.93, the Nationals have the worst Bullpen ERA in the NL, (which tells you how good their starting pitching has been). They’ve made some changes, and added Fernando Rodney, who Jim has somehow made us miss. ;) But since July 12, their bullpen ERA is still 5.32. They have a pretty good closer in Sean Doolittle though, 3.00 ERA, 23 saves, 4 blown. Fangraphs Depth Chart Page

We’ve talked about the DBacks bullpen a lot, but if you need a refresher, go to THIS PAGE

Starting Pitcher Matchups:

Max Scherzer is on the DL, so we won’t see him this series. Note article EDITED as pitching matchups info changed from the morning version on the team website. Ray and Young switched and Clarke in place of Kelly on Sunday

Joe Ross had been working out of the bullpen all year. He made a start on July 21st in a loss to Atlanta. Last time out he pitched behind the opener, working 4.2 IP , giving up 7 runs, 6 earned. Tonight he will get the start again. He’s stretched out enough to go 5 or 6 IP, but effectiveness obviously has been an issue. He throws both his 4 Seamer and Sinker about 94 MPH. He also throws a 88 MPH slider. But his spin rates are all low and there must not be much movement. Baseball Savant

Alex Young will hope to continue his string of good starts. He draws a much easier matchup than the initial Pitching Matchups indicated. This is an opportunity for him to improve his record. Fingers crossed the peripherals and FIP move down towards ERA instead of the other way around.

Stephen Strasburg has to be one of the the hottest pitchers in baseball. He’s won 7 straight starts, and thrown 44.2 Innings with a 2.22 ERA and allowing just 1 HR during that stretch. He doesn’t throw quite as hard as he used to, averaging just under 94 MPH, but his curve has been devastating and he uses it a lot. BASEBALL SAVANT. H2H with DBacks Hitters

Robbie Ray will need to dial it in from the beginning in his role as the team’s “#1 Starter”. Like it or not, he is the “Ace” now. It may seem unfair to put that kind of onus on him at this stage of his career. But it’s not just the fans that are wanting Ray to become a top of the rotation starter. Inside that clubhouse, his teammates are looking for him to make the next step. Said Archie Bradley after the game on Wednesday

“We have a spot to fill in the rotation and now a lot of pressure is put on our other guys.......Robbie has to step up and be our guy now

That’s how players view things. They need and expect certain guys to be leaders, by example, deed, and word. Ready or not, it’s Robbie’s turn. So this needs to be his coming out party and he needs to match or be better than Strasburg. He needs to live up to the “Big Game Bob” moniker and actually BE an Ace.

H2H against Nationals Hitters

The Nationals have to be happy with their signing of Patrick Corbin so far. Other than a little bit bumpy June, he has been good or excellent the rest of the time, including 6 starts with a 1.95 ERA in July. We know him well of course. He still uses his slider almost 40% of the time and it may be the best in baseball. Will be interesting to see if DBacks hitters will be able to pick it up and lay off after watching it for so many years.

Taylor Clarke was just announced as the Sunday starter. Clarke has turned in two good outings in a row, including a solid performance in Yankee Stadium. For the time being the DBacks are going with a 6 man rotation, at least this turn through the order. It would seem that all Clarke will need to continue to pitch as well as his two most recent starts to hold down a spot deep into August however.