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Series Preview #4: Diamondbacks @ Nationals

The Diamondbacks head to our nation’s capital for a four game series against the Washington Nationals

The Teddy Roosevelt mascot from the Nationals rides a much too small motorcycle while looking like something out of a fever dream

It’s early days, of course, but so far things aren’t going to great for our hometown squad. The hitting has been dismal, the defense has not been much better, and we only think the pitching has improved because of just how goddawful it’s been in recent seasons. The good news is that they aren’t currently the worst team in baseball. That would be the Reds with a dismal 2-8 record so far. On the other hand, they’re also the only losing team in the division, so that’s fun.

Good news for them, the Nationals are only slightly better than then at 4-7, which really is just an artifact of them having played 11 games while the Diamondbacks have only played nine. A cursory look at their recent games suggests they’ve been victim to inconsistant pitching, while Juan Soto on the offensive side seems to be still incredible. The big news out of D.C. is, however, that the team may be up for sale, with the Lerner family exploring their options.

Game 1: Madison Bumgarner (0-0, 1.50 WHIP, 187 ERA+) vs. Josiah Gray (1-1, 1.55 WHIP, 103 ERA+)

Madison Bumgarner has had one bad inning this year, while being pretty good the rest of the time, and I really feel like we aren’t appreciating that fact enough. And as bad as that one inning was, he only gave up a single run. The big issue has been the command though, as he has given up six walks in just eight innings. However, he has limited the damage from those, as he has only given up two runs in his two starts. The way I see it, one of two things is going to happen. He is either going to bring his walks closer to his career norm (2.1 BB/9 career vs. 6.8 BB/9 so far this season) or he is going to stop wiggling his way out of trouble and start giving up some serious runs. Only time will tell.

Gray had a rough start to the season against the Mets. He went four innings, gave up four runs, and got the loss. However, he bounced back strong with a scoreless, five inning outing his next time up, against the Braves. In his rookie season, he was pretty much right in the middle of those two results, so continued average performance is probably a reasonable, though conservative, expectation for him going forward. According to Baseball Reference, he is also the only Josiah to every play in MLB.

Game 2: Merrill Kelly (0-0, 1.17 WHIP, 0.00 ERA) vs. Joan Adon (0-2, 2.22 WHIP, 41 ERA+)

Did you know that since you have to divide league average ERA by the pitcher’s ERA to get ERA+, you can’t have an ERA+ if you have a 0.00 ERA? Me either until I started writing this preview and realized that is exactly what is happening with Merrill Kelly right now. Anyway, Kelly has been nails to start the season, having held both the Padres and the Mets scoreless in his first two outings. However, he also is giving up walks at about a walk and a half more per nine innings than he normally does in his career. Like Bumgarner, if this continues, it could spell trouble for him down the road.

Joan Adon might be wishing the lockout had gone on just a bit longer at this point. He had a rough start in Game 3 of the season against the Mets, giving up four runs in 4.1 innings, but things got worse in his second start against the Pirates. In that game, he gave up six runs in 4.2 innings. Nothing is going right for him through the first two games, but somehow, he still is doing better than Caleb Smith was. Scary.

Game 3: Zach Davies (0-1, 1.60 WHIP, 72 ERA+) vs. Erick Fredde (0-1, 1.30 WHIP, 114 ERA+)

I don’t think most of us were expecting much from the Zach Davies signing, and yet he still might be managing to disappoint. He had a decent, but unspectacular, start against the Padres, but quickly reversed course in his second start against the Mets, only lasting 4.1 innings while giving up five runs. He’s lost about 3 SO/9 compared to his career, while also giving up about 1 homer more per nine innings as well. Good news is, he is actually giving up fewer walks than last season, though how much to celebrate going from 4.6 BB/9 to 3.6 can be debated.

Freede has been remarkably consistent to start the season, with almost identical lines in both of his starts against the Mets and Pirates. Five innings, two runs, two walks, four or five hits, and five or three strike outs. I think the Nationals would be happy if the six year veteran of the club keeps pumping out starts like that all season, or at the very least in this start against the Diamondbacks.

Game 4: Zac Gallen (0-0, 0.75 WHIP, 0.00 ERA) vs. Josh Rodgers (1-1, 1.24 WHIP, 110 ERA+)

After a bit of a delay, Gallen finally made his season debut against the Mets in the last series. It was short, as is to be expected around baseball right now, but serviceable. He held the Mets scoreless for four innings, only giving up two hits and a walk. Only struck out two, however. Increasing that will be key for him both for this game against the Nationals, as well as the rest of the season.

Rodgers has put together a couple of solid starts at the beginning of the year. He’s pitched nine innings so far, given up four runs on eight hits and four walks. Got the win in a 11-2 blowout of the Mets in his first start, but got saddled with a tough luck loss when a late comeback by the Nationals fell short.

Conclusion

The cool thing about being this early in the season is that while both teams enter the series with losing records, either one could be at or above .500 by the end of it. I expect to see continued improvements from the Brent Strom-coached pitching staff, and the law of averages suggest the Diamondbacks offense should do at least a little better at some point. Combine those two things, and I think they have a real shot against a fellow weak team. I’m going to say they win the series, with their three wins coming in the Bumgarner, Kelly, and Gallen starts.