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Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats have some ground to make up in NL East

Following a disappointing 2-5 road trip, the Washington Nationals have a chance to pick themselves up against the lowly Miami Marlins.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Marlins (48-75) vs. Nationals (61-61) series info:

Game 1: Friday, Aug. 17 at 7:05 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:05 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7)

Game 3: Sunday, Aug. 19 at 1:35 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Friday: Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19)

Saturday: Wei-Yin Chen (4-9, 5.32) vs. Tommy Milone (1-1, 5.24)

Sunday: Pablo Lopez (2-3, 4.79) vs. Gio Gonzalez (7-9, 4.12)

What to watch for:

Soto no longer a guarantee for Rookie of the Year

For a while, it seemed like teenage phenom Juan Soto had the NL Rookie of the Year award locked up. However, a recent surge by the Braves’ Ronald Acuña has made things much more interesting.

Over his past 18 games, Acuña has slugged 10 home runs to go with a .377 batting average. The Nationals’ outfielder is also hitting just .204 in the month of August, so he’s going to need to rediscover his stroke if he’s going to take home the rookie honor.

The math isn’t on Washington’s side

With 40 games left to play, the Nationals are sitting at .500, eight games back in the NL East and six and a half games behind Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. To get to 87 wins (a good benchmark for a postseason team), the Nats will need to go 26-14 —a winning percentage better than what the Yankees have posted all season.

Including this weekend’s series, Washington will only play two opponents currently sporting losing records the rest of the way. Sixteen of those games will be against clubs currently in playoff position.

Marlins use committee for ninth inning job

Former closer Kyle Barraclough was ousted from the role Aug. 8, opening the door for several other relievers to try out for ninth-inning duties. Barraclough has respectable numbers this season but has struggled in high-leverage situations.

While the Marlins haven’t had many save opportunities lately, candidates include Drew Steckenrider (3.29 ERA in 56 appearances) and Adam Conley (4.33 ERA in 36 appearances). Miami has only converted one save since Barraclough was removed from the role, so the picture remains murky of who exactly will get the ball predominantly in the ninth.

Series history:

The Marlins lead the all-time series (2005-present) by just one win, a margin of 125-124. Washington has been the superior team in its home ballpark, however, posting a .553 winning percentage in the District.