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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Seven-game homestand begins against the Arizona Diamondbacks

Fresh off their first series win of the year, the Nationals head home to take on the Diamondbacks...

Atlanta Braves v. Washington Nationals Photo by Will Newton/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In their first series of the season since virtually all of their players have returned from the COVID IL, with Jon Lester the only player remaining on that list, the Washington Nationals notched their first series win of the year, taking two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Dave Martinez’s men now head back home to D.C. to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in a four-game weekend series starting on Thursday.

This series is also expected to see the Nationals increase their permitted capacity at games to 25%, which will allow upwards of 10,000 fans at games. That’s up from the 5,000 fans that they were allowed when they opened the season against the Atlanta Braves.

Max Scherzer had been one of the more vocal players encouraging the capacity to be expanded, so he was particularly glad to hear that there will be more fans in the building for this series.

“I hear that we’re moving our capacity up to 25%, which is great,” Scherzer told reporters after the news was announced. “That’s what the CDC said.

“So great, we’re following what the CDC says, I guess you get a pat on the back.”

Here’s what to expect from the four games against the DBacks this weekend...

The schedule

  • Game One: Thursday, April 15th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Friday, 16th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Saturday, April 17th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Four: Sunday, April 18th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Patrick Corbin (0-1, 12.46 ERA) vs Merrill Kelly (0-2, 8.10 ERA)
  • Game Two: Max Scherzer (0-1, 3.75 ERA) vs Taylor Widener (1-0, 2.45 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (0-1, 8.53 ERA) vs Luke Weaver (1-0, 2.13 ERA)
  • Game Four: Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 6.30 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (0-2, 11.20 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josh Harrison: After Carter Kieboom failed to impress this spring and lost his chance to be the regular third baseman, Josh Harrison was the next man up for the Nationals as he was then projected to be the team’s regular second baseman, shifting Starlin Castro to third.

Then the team’s coronavirus outbreak happened, forcing Harrison and others to the COVID IL to begin the season.

Harrison was finally able to return against the Cardinals and barely missed a beat at the plate. In the series, he went 6-for-11 with a pair of walks and three RBIs, showing little sign of rust after not seeing live pitching for two weeks.

Having Harrison back and hitting well, along with the returns of Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, should give the Nats’ offense a huge boost from its sluggish start.

Asdrúbal Cabrera: Old friend alert! After a year and change with the Nationals, Cabrera signed a one-year contract with the Diamondbacks this offseason to be the team’s primary third baseman and he’s started off strongly in his new digs.

In 33 at-bats with Arizona, Cabrera is slashing .273/.405/.545 with two home runs, 9 RBIs, and double the number of walks as strikeouts with eight and four respectively. After three stints with the Nationals, it will be interesting to see how the team’s pitchers will handle him in the upcoming series, especially with the form that he’s been in so far in 2021.

Who’s not?

Tanner Rainey: There were many fans who thought that, after a promising shortened 2020 season, Rainey could be a huge factor for the team in 2021. Unfortunately, it’s been a slow start to the year for the flamethrowing right-hander.

He surrendered a two-run home run in each of his first two appearances this year, and while he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last two outings, his velocity has been down in the mid-90s.

The Nats will be hoping that the dip in velocity is because of his injury towards the end of Spring Training and that he will be able to build himself back up to the same pitcher that routinely touches 100mph on the mound. For now though, they may need to be cautious.

Madison Bumgarner: It’s not exactly been plain sailing for Arizona’s $85 million man. After signing his five-year deal with the Diamondbacks ahead of the 2020 season, Bumgarner went 1-4 with an ugly 6.48 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in nine starts during 2020’s shortened season.

Things haven’t been much better in 2021 either. In his three starts to begin the season, the left-hander owns an 11.20 ERA with a 1.88 K/BB ratio while surrendering three home runs.

The former World Series MVP with the San Francisco Giants will face off against the Nationals in the series finale on Sunday. The hosts, who are currently slashing a strong .328/.377/.462 against southpaws this season, will look pile on the misery for Bumgarner.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Diamondbacks storylines from our friends at AZ Snake Pit...

One more thing to watch

Scheduled to face off against Bumgarner in the aforementioned series finale is Stephen Strasburg.

The right-hander had an excellent first start of the season against the Atlanta Braves, tossing six scoreless innings. However, in St. Louis, he was hit around by the Cardinals’ lineup and gave up seven earned runs on eight hits and five walks in 4.0+ innings of work.

The ugly box score is one thing for Strasburg, but during the outing, he was suffering from diminished velocity. According to Statcast, his fastball/sinker averaged under 91mph for the first time in his career and on a few pitches, failed to reach 90mph with his heater.

After the game, his manager didn’t seem overly concerned that the velocity dip was a sign of an underlying issue and thought it was indicative of Strasburg’s mechanics being off.

“He had a good outing his first outing,” Martinez told reporters after Strasburg’s start against the Cardinals. “Never said anything to his trainers, we were there, were watching him.

“I just thought his mechanics, he was falling to the first base side, I thought his mechanics were a little bit off, but this is something for me and for him he’s got to work through, he’s got to get out there and he’s got to work through it.”

Hopefully, Strasburg can revert back to the same form and velocity that he showed in his first start of the season against the Diamondbacks on Sunday. Though with his injury history, Nats fans can be forgiven for being more than a bit worried about their homegrown star.