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Washington Nationals vs Arizona Diamondbacks Series Preview: Nats face true test in the desert

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The Washington Nationals continue their road trip with a series against fellow NL heavyweight Arizona Diamondbacks.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals (57-37) vs. Diamondbacks (55-40) Series Info:

Game 1: Friday, July 21 at 9:40 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Saturday, July 22 at 8:10 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Game 4: Sunday, July 23 at 4:10 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.01 ERA) vs. Zack Godley (3-4, 3.09)

Saturday: Tanner Roark (7-6, 4.98) vs. TBA

Sunday: Stephen Strasburg (10-3, 3.31) vs. Robbie Ray (9-4, 2.97)

What to watch for:

Can Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson right the ship?

The Nats’ bullpen has been bad (you know this), but earlier this week the team traded for Oakland A’s relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to help provide some late-inning relief (you probably know this too).

Despite Doolittle’s shaky first appearance for D.C., he’s been a stud this season with a knack for getting left-handers out (lefties are 1-25 against him).

Madson has continued to defy his age, owning a 2.01 ERA in 41 appearances regardless of the fact that he’s 36 years old.

While the search for a more established closer continues, Doolittle and Madson will be tested in some high-leverage situations with the rest of the bullpen having already established it can’t be trusted.

Ryan Zimmerman continues to slump

Over his last 31 games, Ryan Zimmerman is hitting just .239 with four home runs and 23 strikeouts.

He’s only had more than three hits in a series once over that span, raising questions as to whether he should swap spots in the batting order with the hot-hitting Anthony Rendon.

Zimmerman did have a three-hit game Monday in Cincinnati, but he went just 1-7 in the two-game series with the Angels.

Dbacks boast trade acquisition of their own

J.D. Martinez has quietly been one of the better hitters in baseball since the start of the 2014 season, and the Diamondbacks capitalized on the Tigers’ down year by prying the outfielder away from Detroit.

While Martinez was hit by a pitch the second at-bat of his Diamondbacks debut and is day-to-day with a hand contusion, he’s expected to play in the series with Washington.

With power bats like Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb already headlining Arizona’s lineup, their offense is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Who to watch out for: Chris Owings

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

For as long as it seems Chris Owings has been around, the Diamondbacks utility man is only 25 years old.

He’s also been an effective hitter against the Nats in his career, sporting a .301 batting average in 78 at-bats against Washington.

Goldschmidt, Lamb and Martinez will be enough to give Nats pitchers a headache, but if Owings heats up things could get out of hand quickly.

In their words…

Jim McLennan, AZ Snake Pit

“This year has been a very pleasant surprise for Arizona fans, in a year few expected to contend, and everything from here on out is basically gravy. The D-backs have ridden good starting pitching to their current position, and which team does best there will likely determine the outcome of this series. Just don't hit J.D. Martinez, please. We've already had enough of that from the Reds...”