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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Road series in the desert to face the Arizona Diamondbacks

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We’re still waiting for the Nationals to snap out of their funk. Next up is a trip to the desert to take on the Diamondbacks...

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Though it ended on a high note on Thursday, the Washington Nationals suffered yet another series defeat, dropping two of three against the Philadelphia Phillies this week.

Once again, the lackluster offense was at the heart of the equation, putting up just two runs in each of the first two games, and five runs in the finale. In the series, the Nationals were just 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position, including a 1-for-13 night on Tuesday. Not great.

Next up for the Nats is a trip out west to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game weekend series.

It will already be the second time that the two teams have faced off against each other after they split a four-game series at Nationals Park in mid-April.

Here’s the lowdown from Phoenix ahead of the three-game set...

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, May 14th, 9:40 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, May 15th, 8:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, May 16th, 4:10 pm EDT. TV: MASN 2, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Max Scherzer (2-2, 2.33 ERA) vs Riley Smith (1-1, 4.85 ERA)
  • Game Two: Joe Ross (2-2, 4.26 ERA) vs Luke Weaver (2-3, 5.00 ERA)
  • Game Three: Erick Fedde (2-4, 5.29 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 4.12 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Daniel Hudson: While Brad Hand’s recent struggles have been a big talking point, it has only amplified how dominant Hudson has been in the early going of the 2021 season.

In 11.1 innings of work this year, the right-hander has a sparkling 1.59 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks. In fact, the only two runs he’s allowed have been on solo home runs to Pavin Smith and Bo Bichette, neither of great consequence to their respective games.

Hudson’s fastball velocity is also currently the fastest it’s ever been so far in his career, averaging 96.9mph, beating the 96.8mph it averaged back in 2015 with the Diamondbacks.

While the Nationals will likely still keep Hand in the closer’s role for now, Hudson’s performance gives the team a good fallback or a dominant set-up weapon for whatever they need.

Madison Bumgarner: Funnily enough, Bumgarner was in our “Who’s not” section the last time the Diamondbacks faced off against the Nationals. Coming into that series, the left-hander had an 11.20 ERA in three starts, but since then, he’s turned things around.

In his last five starts, Bumgarner has a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings while striking out 34, walking just two, and holding opponents to a lowly .119/.152/.218 slash line against him. That stretch started with a five-inning, one-run start against the Nationals at Nats Park and also includes a seven-inning no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves.

The left-hander has looked a lot like the pitcher Arizona was hoping they were getting when he signed a five-year, $85 million deal ahead of the 2020 season. The Nationals will have to be wary when they face him in the series finale this weekend.

Who’s not?

Josh Harrison: After he was one of the best hitters on the team in April, Harrison may have finally come back down to earth a little at the plate.

So far in the month of May, Harrison is hitting exactly at the Mendoza Line, and in his last eight games, Harrison is slashing just .121/.194/.242 with a double and a home run while striking out six times and walking twice.

Early on in the season, Harrison frequently hit in the top third of the lineup, however, the Nationals may look to shift him further down the batting order while he’s cooled off at the plate, just as they did on Tuesday when he was seventh in the order.

Eduardo Escobar: After a decent start to the 2021 season, May has not been kind to Escobar.

So far this month, Escobar is slashing just .093/.133/.116 with 14 strikeouts and just two walks. Perhaps most surprisingly, the utility man has yet to hit a home run this month after having a stretch with seven home runs in 16 games in mid-April, including two against the Nats.

Maybe that means he’s now due to crank one against the Nationals this weekend, but Escobar’s slump at the plate since the calendar turned is notable for the D-Backs.

From the opposing dugout

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

One more thing to watch

Well, we put Starlin Castro in the “Who’s hot” section ahead of the series with the Phillies, so probably wasn’t fair to put him there again for this series. However, with the third baseman on an 11-game hitting streak, plenty of eyes will be on him to see if he keeps it going.

During the 11-game stretch to start the month of May, Castro is slashing .425/.511/.525 with four doubles and two RBIs.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the hit-streak is that Castro has walked seven times in those 11 games and only struck out five times. For a hitter that’s not exactly known for taking a walk, preferring to swing and make contact, the plate discipline is impressive.

Following Thursday’s series finale, manager Dave Martinez was asked what was more impressive to him during Castro’s streak, the 17 hits or the seven free passes...

“The walks,” Martinez responded. “The walks with him, honestly, because I’ve been with him when he doesn’t walk a whole lot, but when he gets the ball in the strike zone he hits the ball really hard.

“And that’s something that we’re working on with him, talking about all the time with him. With that being said, we don’t want him to lose his aggressiveness either, because he’s a very aggressive hitter.”

Castro’s 7.4% walk percentage so far this year is the joint-highest of his career alongside his 2018 season with the Miami Marlins. It’s probably not a breakthrough to him suddenly becoming a patient hitter, but more a sign that he’s seeing the ball exceptionally well right now.

If Castro can keep his hit-streak going in the desert, he should continue to be a much-needed positive in an otherwise struggled Nationals lineup.