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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Struggling Baltimore Orioles pitching staff comes at a good time

The Nationals return home from another hit-and-miss road trip to face their beltway rival Orioles...

MLB: AUG 16 Nationals at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On a road trip that started so well with a 17-run outburst for the Washington Nationals against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it finished with even more offensive impotence at Wrigley Field.

In their four-game series against the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals were only able to score in eight of the team’s 28 innings and couldn’t muster up more than two runs in any of those innings.

The team continues to be one of the worst offensive teams in the majors so far this season.

They have no problem getting runners on-base with one of the highest batting averages in the league and a decent on-base percentage. However, they just don’t capitalize when there are runners in scoring position and when the bases are loaded to give themselves big innings.

Maybe the Baltimore Orioles, who come to Nationals Park for a three-game weekend series, are the perfect remedy, as they boast a 4.71 ERA as a staff and will send out three pitchers with ERAs north of 4.50, with the Nats missing Orioles ace, John Means, this series.

Here’s the lowdown ahead of the first Beltway Series of the 2021 season...

The schedule

  • Game One: Friday, May 21st, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Saturday, May 22nd, 4:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Sunday, May 23rd, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 6.30 ERA) vs Jorge López (1-4, 6.35 ERA)
  • Game Two: Jon Lester (0-2, 3.80 ERA) vs Bruce Zimmermann (2-3, 4.79 ERA)
  • Game Three: Patrick Corbin (2-3, 6.10 ERA) vs Matt Harvey (3-4, 5.93 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Kyle Schwarber: Some of the Nationals’ big lineup pieces might be turning the corner. Josh Bell has looked better at the plate with an OPS north of .900 in the past week, but Schwarber’s turnaround at the plate has been a bit more prolonged.

In his last 14 games, Schwarber is slashing .264/.391/.585 with five home runs and 12 RBIs. He’s also produced with runners on in that stretch, something not many on the team can say at this point, producing a 1.078 OPS with at least one runner on base in those 14 games.

That sort of production is what the Nats were hoping for when they inked Schwarber in the winter. Now, he and Bell need to produce at that level consistently to get the team back on track.

Trey Mancini: Already the clear frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year when he set foot on a major league field again after he missed the 2020 season due to colon cancer, Mancini has remarkably not missed a beat from his previous form.

On the year, the first baseman is slashing .274/.341/.518 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs, but in May he has taken off at the plate with an outstanding .328/.400/.627 slash line, with five long balls and 22 RBIs, including a four-hit, two-home run effort on Wednesday.

It’s great to see Mancini come all the way back from cancer and succeed at the highest level and he is one of the feel-good stories of the 2021 season.

Who’s not?

Yadiel Hernández: After he was able to fill in admirably for Juan Soto earlier this season, the magic may be wearing off for Hernández at the plate as his role with the team diminishes.

Though he was able to crank a go-ahead home run against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, that has been his only time on-base since Soto returned to the lineup full-time on May 7th, which leaves him with a measly .172/.226/.276 slash line in the month of May as a whole.

One of the underrated aspects of the Nationals right now is the lack of impact bats that are able to come off their bench late in games. Aside from either Bell or Ryan Zimmerman, Hernández is probably the best hitter who regularly waits in the wings. Now that he’s struggling at the dish, it doesn’t give Martinez much to work with in that department.

Matt Harvey: It’s safe to say that Harvey is not better, New York Mets fans. It’s been a while since that was chanted at Stephen Strasburg and Harvey’s career has nosedived since.

Now with his fifth team in four seasons, Harvey actually had a solid start to the season with the Orioles. However, in May he’s imploded with an 8.62 ERA in four starts while his last two have been even worse, surrendering seven runs in 4.1 innings and six runs in 1.2 innings.

Harvey’s velocity continues to dip alarmingly too. In his latest start sporting just a 92.6mph average four-seam fastball velocity and 85.4mph average slider velocity as Tampa Bay Rays hitters teed off at will against the right-hander in Tuesday’s start.

The Nats are due to face Harvey on Sunday and Dave Martinez’s lineup will need to take advantage.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Orioles storylines from our friends at Camden Chat...

One more thing to watch

As you will no doubt all have seen at this point, Stephen Strasburg will make his return to the starting rotation on Friday having spent 33 days on the Injured List with right shoulder inflammation.

In his previous start for the Nats, Strasburg labored through 4+ innings of work against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits and five walks while working with the lowest velocity of his career, as some of his fastballs failed to even reach 90mph.

At the time, Martinez brushed his struggles off as mechanical issues. But before his next scheduled start, he hit the IL and it’s hard not to think there was at least some correlation.

Anyway, he’s back now after a rehab assignment, and after throwing a bullpen at Wrigley Field earlier in the week, the former World Series MVP appears to be all good to go.

“He checked all the boxes,” Martinez told reporters after the series with the Cubs. “He went through everything and felt good. Threw his last bullpen the other day, he felt great, came out of that with no issues. And then we decided he was ready.

“I talked to him, he feels like he’s ready so he’ll get the ball tomorrow.”

Strasburg made one rehab appearance for the Nationals’ new Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings, going 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six.

While it might be too much to expect him to come right out and dominate in his first start back at the big league level, reports of his rehab start were good, and if he can deliver six strong innings against the Orioles, then the Nationals will consider that a huge positive.