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Series Preview: Washington Nationals

Photo: © Keeton10 | Dreamstime.com

 

After a dismal stretch that saw the Padres go only 3-7 on their last road trip, the boys came back home and swept the Philadelphia Phillies in dominant fashion.  Among the series highlights, the series finale was capped by a Clayton Richard complete game shutout, and Wil Myers stole second, third, and home in the same inning!  Now, they welcome the Washington Nationals into town as they kick off a four game set Thursday night. The Padres schedule is stacked from here on out, as only two more of their opponents (Giants, Marlins) have records below .500.  The Nationals are as formidable an opponent they’ll face, outside of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Washington, meanwhile, will be without 2015 MVP Bryce Harper, as the young star suffered a left knee hyperextension while running down to first base on August 12. Since Harper’s injury, the Nationals have gone 3-2, while scoring only 3.2 runs per game, as opposed to 5.5 before the injury. While it’s only a small sample size, Harper’s injury is going to negatively impact the Nationals lineup, so we’ll see how much of a difference that makes, as the series kicks off at 7:10 PT.

 

Thursday: RHP Edwin Jackson (3-2, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Jhoulys Chacin (11-8, 4.06 ERA)

In the series opener, two aging veterans square off, as Padres Opening Day starter and ace Jhoulys Chacín takes the mound against journeyman Jackson. Earlier in the season, he faced Washington at Nationals Park, going 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs and striking out six, in a no-decision. Chacín has been somewhat of a revelation this season for the Padres, winning eleven games and having profound success at Petco Park (we’ll just ignore his away starts). He’s been really steady in his past few outings, holding a 2.82 ERA in his past 13 games, and will look to continue enjoying his home field advantage.

Toeing the rubber for the other side is the familiar face of Edwin Jackson. The former Padre makes his return to San Diego after finding a surprising home in Washington. In a rotation that has lost both Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg to injury in the past few weeks, Jackson has been the steady veteran presence this rotation has needed, going 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA with the Nats since getting called up on July 18 (He also made a start with Baltimore earlier in the season, where he went 5 IP and allowed 7 ER).

Jackson went 5-6 with a 5.89 ERA last season for the Padres, who signed him as a free agent in the middle of the season last year, to eat some innings. Jackson’s highlight in a Padres uniform came last July, when he carried a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants. Now, he’ll try to replicate that success as he faces his former team, whom he holds an 0-6 record, and a 6.63 ERA over 15 appearances (10 starts).  Fun Fact: Edwin Jackson’s MLB career (Est. 2003) is older than Petco Park (Est. 2004).

 

Friday: RHP Max Scherzer (12-5, 2.25 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Perdomo (6-7, 4.95 ERA)

In the second game of the series, the Nationals will send two time Cy Young and NL Strikeout leader Max Scherzer to the mound, to face off against sophomore right hander Luis Perdomo. In 2017, Scherzer has come as advertised, replicating the success that he had just last year. As well as leading the NL in strikeouts (220), he also leads the NL in innings (160 1/3) and WHIP (0.85), and is tied for the lead in complete games with two (Clayton Richard and Ivan Nova). Clearly, he’ll be tough to beat, and recently against the Padres, he’s been nothing short of dominant. His last time out against the Pads was in 2016 at Petco Park, where he went six innings, allowing one run and striking out ten.

Although he may seem like a heavy underdog in this matchup, Perdomo has been steadier as of late, and could potentially surprise some people on Friday. He has registered three quality starts in his last five attempts, and in his last matchup with Washington earlier this year, he went six innings and allowed only three runs, taking a loss. However, what has me most excited for Perdomo’s start is that he has a very solid .200 BAA against the Nationals’ projected starting lineup for Friday, with only Matt Wieters having any success whatsoever (2 for 3, with a double). The surface of this matchup may suggest a Washington blowout, but I expect this to be a well-contested game.

 

Saturday: RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-3, 3.25 ERA) vs. LHP Travis Wood (2-4, 6.46 ERA)

Even though the listed starter for the Nationals on Saturday is “TBD,” it’s pretty much a mere formality that Stephen Strasburg will fill that spot. If all goes as planned, it will be the San Diego native’s first start since landing on the disabled list in late July with a nerve impingement in his elbow. He recently made a rehab start this past Monday, going five innings and allowing only one run. Unfortunately, Strasburg’s return could come at an inopportune time for Padres fans, as he has dominated his old stomping grounds since breaking into the league in 2010. In his career, he holds a 6-1 record and a 2.93 ERA, to go along with 58 strikeouts and a 1.07 WHIP in 43 innings, including a 15 strikeout performance his last time out, earlier this year at Nationals Park.

Opposing Strasburg will be relatively-new Padre Travis Wood who has been inconsistent through four starts with his new club. Since turning in a quality start on July 29 against the Pirates, Wood has struggled, posting a 6.63 ERA over his last three outings, not getting past the fifth inning in any of them. He’s been equally poor against the Nationals in his career, with a 5.59 ERA in 19 1/3 innings pitched across nine appearances, though only two were starts.  Wood’s attempt to get back on track will be a tough one.

 

Sunday: LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-5, 2.49 ERA) vs. RHP Dinelson Lamet (7-4, 4.78 ERA)

In the series finale, we could see the best pitching matchup of the series, as the red hot Gio Gonzalez takes on the formidable rookie Dinelson Lamet. In the past month of play, Gonzalez has been, to put it simply, superb.  In his last four turns in the rotation, he’s gone 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA, with only seven walks in 28 innings. In a season that came in with plenty of question marks for Gonzalez, he has answered, and answered well. He’s also been very durable this season in the Washington rotation, making 24 starts and throwing for 155 1/3 innings, just behind his teammate Max Scherzer for most in the National League.  Clearly, he’s been a huge part of Washington’s success this year, and will try to continue that against the Padres, against whom he owns a 4.30 ERA in five games started.

Taking the ball for the Padres in the series finale is the electric Lamet. Like Gonzalez, he’s been really good lately, going 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. His recent performance is going a long way to erase the mistakes from earlier in the season, as his ERA has dropped from 6.42 on July 18 in Colorado to 4.78 coming into Sunday’s start. The success may be found from Lamet’s slider, a pitch that he has just started using more frequently, and for good reason. He’s now throwing the pitch 38.3% of the time, and has a strikeout percentage of 44.3%, as well as an OSwing percentage of 43.3% (30% is considered solid). This has the potential to be a real pitcher’s duel, so bring your popcorn

Hitters to Watch

  • Ryan Zimmerman: After the All Star Break, Zimmerman was struggling to find his power stroke, hitting only one long ball in a two week span in late July. Since July 26, he’s got eight, as he continues his remarkable comeback season.
  • Howie Kendrick: Since being traded to the Nationals, he’s got a .354/.392/.667 slash line, and has picked up the slack for the injured Harper. Those numbers are bound to regress in the not too distant future, but it will be interesting to see how long he can keep up this pace.
  • Yangervis Solarte: In August he’s been hitting .302, and has hit safely in ten of the 15 games he’s played in this month. While he is a likely an offseason trade chip due to San Diego’s surplus of 2B/3B’s, it will be fun to watch him finish out the rest of his 2017 campaign.  He has struggled against the Nats, sporting a .200/.254/.217 slash line in 67 at-bats.
  • Austin Hedges: In late April he wound up hitting six home runs and broke out of a season-starting 0-23 slump. In the three-plus months since then, he’s hit only nine. However, he has his highest monthly batting average of the season this month, even if it’s only .256. Across 88 games this season, he stands second in the NL in Home Runs by a backstop (15), behind Willson Contreras (21), who is out for 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury.