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Washington Nationals roundtable: Talking St. Louis Cardinals vs the Nats

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FBB's Jim Meyerriecks, dc Roach and I set up a roundtable-ish discussion on Slack and talked about the upcoming series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cards' rotation and the rivalry that's built up over the years between the two teams...

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Behind the scenes here at FBB, we carry on conversations all day on the Slack app, which allows us to coordinate coverage and discuss all things Washington Nationals as we work. [ed. note - "Don't tell our respective bosses."]. Slack also provides us with a forum to discuss some of the latest Nats-related news before it ends up in an article on the front page.

We've decided this season to try to also use Slack for occasional roundtable conversations amongst the writers on staff so that we can hopefully spark some more discussion.

With the St. Louis Cardinals in town for a three-game set which starts at 7:05 PM EDT tonight in Nationals Park, we decided to kick around three questions about the upcoming series.

FBB's Jim Meyerriecks and dc Roach responded to the questions I posted on Slack and we're reprinting the questions and answers here.

We started with a question about a Sporting News article out of St. Louis in which Cards' skipper Mike Matheny talked about how the Cardinals' rotation matches up against the Nationals' staff...

Federal Baseball (FBB): Mike Matheny talked in an article this weekend about having "'collective rotation pride' with his group of starters, as it relates to how 'people talk about what the Nationals have."

Basically they looked at the early returns, early season stats and said that with all the hype Washington's rotation has received, their starters (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez) have been underappreciated. How do you think the two rotations match up? Where do each have advantages?

Jim Meyerriecks (JM): Matheny sounds like a manager trying to build confidence in his own starters with that comment.  The Cardinals' rotation is strong and fairly deep.

"Matheny sounds like a manager trying to build confidence in his own starters with that comment." - Jim Meyerriecks on Nats' rotation vs the Cards' starters

Still, Martinez and Wacha both have a lot to prove as big league starters.  They've combined to make just 40 starts in their big league careers.  Wacha had a dominant rookie showing in the playoffs in 2013, but couldn't stay healthy last season.  Martinez has been a real asset for St. Louis in the bullpen, but let's not start comparing him to Doug Fister or Gio Gonzalez when he's accumulated all of ten big league starts.  Lackey has turned in two consecutive terrific years, but was a ghost for three years before that in Boston.  He had two terrible seasons before undergoing Tommy John surgery.  Wainwright's fantastic and Lynn is an underrated number two, but the 3-4-5 guys have a lot more question marks than the Nats rotation does.

dc Roach: The Cardinals' rotation is certainly strong, but despite these gaudy early numbers it is nowhere near as consistently great a rotation as the Nationals have.  Wainwright has years of ace material under his belt.  Lance Lynn has proven himself and is clearly the equal of a pitcher like Gio. Lackey is another step below Lynn, though he has found ways to produce solid numbers over the past two years.  Wacha and Martinez are young.  Wacha has a high ceiling, but has yet to pitch his 200th inning.  Martinez throws really really hard, but has yet to solve his problem with lefties (they destroy him).  This rotation is not as good as they are pitching so far.  There is certainly plenty of innate talent here, but it does not have the consistency, depth, or experience of the Nationals' rotation.

FBB: Matchups: Lance Lynn vs Gio Gonzalez; John Lackey vs Doug Fister; Michael Wacha vs Max Scherzer. Looking forward to any particular matchup here? Why? Which team has the advantage in this series with the starters that will pitch?

"Lackey has been destroying righties. Lefties have been destroying Lackey. I want to see Span and Harper do big damage at the top of the order in game 2." -dc Roach on Nationals vs Cards' John Lackey

JM: With Wainwright having pitched on Sunday night, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the Nats square off against Wacha.  He appears to have the biggest upside of the three starters the Cardinals will throw, and he just so happens to draw Nats ace Max Scherzer.  This should make for some interesting theater and a terrific pitchers' duel on Thursday.

dc Roach: Lackey has been destroying righties.  Lefties have been destroying Lackey.  I want to see Span and Harper do big damage at the top of the order in game 2.

FBB: The Cardinals are 11-2 against Nationals over last two seasons... [ed. note - "Yes, dear reader, we did start this discussion with arbitrary end points so don't feel the need to say that you can go back another year and change the narrative. Thanks."]... plus the Cards have that NLDS win the Nats in 2012, so is there a rivalry here in your mind? Seems to me Cardinals are one of those teams the Nationals will have to beat to take the next step, show they can compete with perennial postseason team?

JM: I probably don't see the Nats vs. Cards the same way that many Nats fans do.  It's always felt like a rivalry to me, since I've happened to reside in St. Louis for the past 25 years.   For most, the  developing rivalry that they look at began in 2012 when the Nats coughed up a six run lead in Game 5.  To me, I remember a lot of things before that.  I remember Elijah Dukes hitting a big home run to straightaway center field against the Cardinals and pounding his chest.  Let's just say that sports radio in St. Louis vilified Dukes for the next two weeks.  I remember feeling like the Nats were starting to turn the corner in June 2011 after they swept the Cardinals at home, a series that concluded with a three run Danny Espinosa walkoff blast into the bullpen.  I puffed my chest out for the next week!  And yes... I remember 2012, though I certainly don't remember it as fondly.

JM: Addendum to my answer -- Given that I generally attend at least two of the games when the Nats come to St. Louis, I feel like I remember a two or three year streak where Pujols hit at least one walkoff shot against us per year.

I told Patrick this in private, but I remember getting up in the stands with Pujols coming to the plate in the ninth inning and screaming for Riggleman to intentionally walk him..... two pitches later, game over.

Albert was such an outstanding player.  I always felt like if a team let anyone other than Pujols beat them, they could at least walk off with their heads held high.  If they let Pujols beat them, they beat themselves."

dcR: As a young franchise, it feels like the Nationals have been very focused in years past on winning the division and consequently on the rivals they have in their division.  Certainly fans are aware of the threat posed by perennial playoff teams like the Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers, but I think it will take a few more postseason trips for true rivalries to form.  In the meantime, the challenge provided by strong teams such as this Cardinals team are a welcome treat.

Thoughts? Answer any or all of the questions yourself in the comment section below and thanks to Jim and dc Roach for answering some questions.