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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays await at temporary Dunedin home

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The Washington Nationals continue their road trip with a two-game set in Dunedin to take on the Toronto Blue Jays...

Washington Nationals v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals were once again Jekyll and Hyde over the weekend with two brutal shutout losses to the New York Mets sandwiching a win in the Saturday game.

Next, the 8-11 Nationals will play a ballpark they’ve never played a regular-season game in before in Dunedin to take on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, that’s Dunedin, where the Jays’ Low-A team usually plays and where the major league team has Spring Training.

At least it makes more sense than the last time the Blue Jays hosted the Nationals.

Last year, the Jays called Nationals Park home for two games at the start of the season to conclude back-to-back two-game series against each other.

This series will feature the unstoppable force of a Blue Jays’ pitching staff that currently boasts the third-best ERA in the majors against the moveable object of a Nationals lineup whose 82 wRC+ sits as the third-lowest in the league.

Here’s the lowdown from Dunedin ahead of the two-game midweek series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, April 27th, 7:07 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday 28th, 7:07 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Max Scherzer (1-1, 1.80 ERA) vs [Opener] Trent Thornton (0-0, 1.86 ERA)
  • Game Two: Erick Fedde (1-1, 5.51 ERA) vs Steven Matz (4-0, 2.31 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Max Scherzer: Remember the brief moment of concern after Scherzer’s first start of the year against the Atlanta Braves? No, me neither.

Since that solo home run-filled afternoon, Scherzer has been his old vintage self, allowing one run in 19 innings while striking out 24 and walked just four batters, good for a 0.47 ERA and .141/.203/.188 slash line against him in those three starts.

The Blue Jays have a talented lineup that’s underperformed so far, though reinforcements are potentially on the way for this series. That said, with Mad Max seemingly in top form, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t continue his recent dominance in Tuesday’s start.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: The son of the former Montreal Expos’ star might finally be starting to live up to the hype that followed him throughout the minor leagues in the Blue Jays’ system.

Through his first 21 games, Guerrero is slashing an exceptional .338/.472/.563 with four home runs, 12 RBIs, and 16 walks as opposed to 13 strikeouts. It’s far from a fluke either as according to Statcast, he’s in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, expected batting average, chase rate, and expected weighted on-base average.

The Nationals will have to be extremely wary of the now-first baseman in these two games.

Who’s not?

Victor Robles: Apparently, I can’t just put “The entire Nats’ lineup” with five shutouts in their first 19 games and in two of their last three. Well, I could, but that’s a cop-out and I know it.

We’ve had Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell in this spot before who are arguably the coldest hitters on the team and are under more of a microscope because they were the big offseason additions to the lineup, but Robles has been pretty poor of late too.

Robles is currently slashing .214/.343/.268 on the year but has dipped recently with a .194/.324/.226 line in his last 12 games and has been bumped to the bottom third of the lineup. The young outfielder has also been a bit suspect in the field and on the basepaths, including a notable TOOTBLAN on Sunday as he tried to extend a double into a triple.

This is a big year for Robles who really needs to be showing tangible signs of development, but as yet, he’s still struggling to truly live up to the hype that he had as a prospect.

Danny Jansen: Jansen was also thought to be part of that same promising young core as Guerrero early on in his big league career when he sported a 115 OPS+ in his rookie season in 2018. However, it’s been a different story for him since then.

So far in 2021, Jansen has a slash line of just .049/.133/.073 and is hitless in his last 30 at-bats. The poor offensive numbers follow a similar trend from his previous two seasons where he slashed a combined .201/.288/.360 with an OPS+ of just 74.

The upside for Jansen is that despite his ice-cold start at the plate, he’s still providing near-elite defense behind the plate, with the seventh-best Defensive Rating among catchers, according to FanGraphs. Just don’t expect him to contribute much at the plate.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

The Blue Jays were tipped by many to at least make a dent on the postseason picture in the American League this season. They have a young, exciting core that includes the aforementioned Guerrero which has been supplemented with further additions the past two winters.

One of those big winter acquisitions is George Springer, who signed a six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays in December, a move that signals their intent to contend again.

Unfortunately for Springer, he suffered an oblique strain injury during Spring Training quickly followed by a low-grade quad strain suffered in the first week of April, which has led him to miss the first three weeks of the 2021 season.

However, according to Jays’ skipper, Charlie Montoyo, Springer now looks set to make his long-awaited Blue Jays debut during this two-game series with the Nationals.

“I’ve got to see what happens today, but I’m optimistic that Springer’s got a good chance on Tuesday,” Montoyo told reporters after Toronto’s win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

If Springer can return, even if it’s just as a Designated Hitter initially, then it will be a huge boost to a lineup that hasn’t gotten off to the start it had hoped to so far this year.

Through their first 21 games of the season, the Blue Jays sit with a lowly .660 OPS as a team, the fifth-worst in the majors entering Monday’s slate of games. If Springer does indeed return on Tuesday, it might be the spark the lineup needs to get their offense back on track.