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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats look to bounce back against the St. Louis Cardinals

After a disappointing series in Los Angeles, the Nationals will now travel to take on the St. Louis Cardinals...

League Championship Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game Two Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals have had something of a gauntlet to open the season.

They lost their first series of the year to the Atlanta Braves before being swept by the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend, leaving them at a disappointing 1-5 to start the new season.

It doesn’t get much easier to start this week, with a road series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals are a so-so 5-4 so far this season after series losses to the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers with a sweep of the Miami Marlins sandwiched between them.

Despite winning the National League Central in last year’s shortened season, they weren’t overly impressive in doing so and then suffered a disappointing first-round exit to the up-and-coming San Diego Padres in three games.

Here’s the lowdown on the three games at Busch Stadium...

The schedule

  • Game One: Monday, April 12th, 7:45 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2 Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Tuesday, 12th, 7:45 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Wednesday, April 13th, 1:15 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Erick Fedde (0-1, 27.00 ERA) vs John Gant (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
  • Game Two: Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Jack Flaherty (1-0, 5.23 ERA)
  • Game Three: Joe Ross (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Adam Wainwright (0-1, 8.22 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Juan Soto: Beware, National League. Juan Soto has woken up. After a so-so series against the Atlanta Braves, despite the walk-off hit in the season opener, the reigning batting champ had a strong series against the Dodgers, going 4-for-12 with a pair of home runs on Saturday.

The three games at Chavez Ravine leave Soto with a .300/.440/.600 slash line on the young season and he already has more than double the number of walks as strikeouts with five and two, respectively. Same old, same old for the best hitter in the majors right now, really.

Nolan Arenado: It was almost unthinkable that the Rockies would trade away their star third baseman after signing that monster eight-year extension before the 2019 season. But, after some behind-the-scenes drama, that’s exactly what they did and Arenado is now a Cardinal.

And based on the way that he’s started the 2021 season, the five-time All-Star is on a mission to prove that his offensive ability is not the product of Coors Field. So far, through 36 at-bats, Arenado is slashing a strong .333/.385/.556 with a pair of home runs and 5 RBIs.

Expect Arenado to be at the heart of most things offensively for the redbirds in this series.

Who’s not?

Hernán Pérez: Filling in as the team’s primary second baseman while Josh Harrison remains on the COVID IL, it hasn’t been a great start to the year for Pérez. Starting the team’s first five games of the season, Pérez recorded just one hit, good for a .083/.154/.083 slash line.

It’s not clear how much longer Harrison will remain on the COVID IL, which means Pérez will get more starting opportunities in the meantime. However, if he doesn’t start performing in a hurry, he might lose out of playing time to Jordy Mercer or Luis García, who each started one game apiece at second base over the weekend series.

Paul DeJong: Often a nemesis for the Nats, DeJong has only recorded three hits so far this season — though two of them have cleared the fence — and all three of those hits came in his first two games. That leaves the shortstop with a meager .097/.263/.290 slash line in 28 at-bats.

Despite the slow start, DeJong has still been hitting cleanup in the Cardinals’ lineup behind Arenado so far this season. It’s fair to wonder if he might get a demotion to the lower third of the batting order in this series with the Nationals until he gets going at the plate.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Cardinals storylines from our friends at Viva El Birdos...

One more thing to watch

While the Nationals have had to roll with a depleted lineup to open the season, it’s still at least somewhat concerning when you look at the general lack of offense so far.

Through six games, the Nationals have managed just 17 runs, while also being shut out in three of the last four games. The 2.83 runs they’re scoring per game is the lowest in the major leagues, just behind the Chicago Cubs (2.89) and the Miami Marlins (3.00).

The team’s manager, Dave Martinez, isn’t too concerned about the lack of runs just yet.

“We’re playing hard, we’ve been in most of these ballgames,” Martinez told reporters after the series with the Dodgers. “Today we were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. We’re getting hits, we’re not getting those timely hits.

“But then again, we’re missing some big bats in our lineup. Hopefully we get those guys back soon, but these guys, like I said, I give them credit, they battled, they battled back, we had a couple of guys on there in the eighth and just couldn’t get nothing going.

“So, keep battling, that’s all we can do, just keep battling.”

The Nationals’ two big offseason additions, Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, are still seemingly out indefinitely on the COVID IL and could well miss all three games in St. Louis, so it’s going to be a grind for Washington’s offense for at least a little while longer.