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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Offense looks to keep rolling against Cincinnati Reds

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The Nationals were able to get their bats going against the Orioles over the weekend. Can they keep it up against the Reds?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

That’s more like it. Yes, the Washington Nationals were only playing a poor Baltimore Orioles team, but it was good for fans to see them actually capitalize on playing a team that should supposedly be a team they handle and collect a sweep from.

While the starting pitching struggled in the series, the offense was able to pick them up and respond immediately with runs of their own, especially in the Saturday and Sunday games.

Next up for the Nationals are the Cincinnati Reds who are in a mini-skid of their own having gone 3-8 in their last 11 games.

Pitching has been the main issue in that poor run. A 6.66 ERA as a pitching staff in that time is the second-worst in the majors in those 11 games, behind only the Orioles and their 8.08 ERA, thanks in part to the wood the Nationals were able to put on the ball over the weekend against them.

Here’s what to expect from the three games against the Reds this week...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, May 25th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, May 26th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, May 27th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Max Scherzer (4-2, 2.24 ERA) vs Tyler Mahle (2-2, 4.20 ERA)
  • Game Two: Joe Ross (2-4, 5.72 ERA) vs Jeff Hoffman (3-3, 4.31 ERA)
  • Game Three: Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 4.11 ERA) vs Sonny Gray (0-3, 3.96 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Josh Bell: We gave some love to Kyle Schwarber in the last series preview, but his partner in the heart of the order has also been swinging a much hotter bat of late for the Nationals.

In his last 10 games, Bell has an excellent .371/.421/.600 slash line with a pair of home runs and eight RBIs and has been a vital part of the team’s improvement on offense of late.

It finally looks as though Bell’s hard contact is being rewarded.

Among players with at least 50 batted balls, Bell ranks 11th in average exit velocity and 6th in hard-hit percentage, according to Statcast, and the results are finally coming for him.

Hopefully, this is just the start of his much-needed turnaround for the Nationals.

Jesse Winker: Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week baseball-wise, you will know that Winker might be the hottest hitter in the big leagues right now.

In his team’s three-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers, the outfielder went 7-for-15 with five home runs to build on his recent hot streak at the plate as, in his last 27 games, Winker is slashing a dominant .352/.417/.759 with 12 home runs, six doubles, and 22 RBIs.

Winker’s recent hot stretch gives him a league-leading 1.096 OPS on the season and will be one of the key men the Nationals will circle on the lineup card in the leadoff spot for the Reds.

Who’s not?

Joe Ross: After he was arguably the Nationals’ best starter for the first couple of weeks of the season, Ross has come back down to earth with a thud in some of his recent starts.

In the month of May, Ross is 0-3 in four starts with an ugly 7.00 ERA while walking 11 hitters and striking out 18, as he’s seemingly had trouble commanding his pitches in the same way he did to start the season when he didn’t allow an earned run through his first 12.2 innings.

With Erick Fedde on the COVID Injured List at the time this piece is published, Ross looks like he’ll take the ball in the second game of this series against the Reds. It could potentially be the last opportunity for Ross to keep his rotation spot as Fedde has outperformed him.

Eugenio Suárez: Remember when the Nats were linked with Suárez this offseason? Well, he didn’t go anywhere this winter and now his 2021 season hasn’t gone to plan so far.

While Winker has the highest OPS in the league among qualifiers, Suárez has the eighth-lowest at .571 fueled by a run as bad as Winker’s is good. In his last 27 games, Suárez is slashing just .135/.180/.327 with six home runs but striking out a whopping 34 times.

There is a slight element of bad luck as when he does hit the ball he is generating Barrels at a solid clip.

However, Suárez is really struggling to make contact at a similar level to his contact rate in the past and has caused his offense to plummet.

As ever, there’s always a threat of a turnaround with a slumping hitter, but Suárez is in a pretty deep one so far this season.

From the opposing dugout

Check out some of the top Reds storylines from our friends at Red Reporter...

One more thing to watch

After watching Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester, two key members of the Chicago CubsWorld Series team in 2016, receive commemorative videos at Wrigley Field earlier this month, the Nats will now welcome back their former closer, Sean Doolittle, to D.C. in this series.

In three and a half seasons with the Nationals, Doolittle became a fan favorite as the team’s closer. Though it finished on a sour note in 2020, at times Doolittle was one of the best relievers in baseball with the Nats while recording 75 saves to the tune of a 3.03 ERA.

On Zoom with members of the Nationals beat, MASN’s Mark Zuckerman joked that, instead of a Thank You video, the Nats should play the 12-minute, 21-second Star Wars soliloquy Doolittle recorded prior to the 2019 season ahead of his Obi-Sean Kenobi bobblehead night.

“That would be awesome,” Doolittle joked. “Make everybody sit through that right before the game, right before the anthem. I think that would be really cool.”

As to the sort of reception Doolittle thought he would get from the Nationals, he wasn’t sure what to expect when he returns to Nats Park for the first time since the 2020 season.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Doolittle explained. “I am looking forward to just seeing fans back at Nats Park.

“I’m sure there will be some familiar faces and some people that I recognize. Whether it’s even from the third-base side, going down to the bullpen, and just saying hello to the fans, saying thank you to the fans for all of their support for me during the three and a half years that I was there, so yeah, I don’t know.”

Despite being bumped from the closer’s role before the World Series run, Doolittle was a crucial figure both on and off the field during the 2019 season and during the vast majority of his tenure with the Nationals, so there will no doubt be a video tribute waiting for him.