Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals are only two games out of first place in the National League East and are also two games above .500 for the first time since 2019.
Thanks to four wins on the spin, including a two-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays in their most recent series, the Nationals are looking increasingly like a team that can actually contend for a postseason berth. Who’d have thought that at the start of June?
Next up is a four-game weekend series against the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Or fake season champions and the Nationals are still the real reigning World Series champions. Whatever floats your boat.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Dodgers have actually spent a fair amount of time in third place in their division with the San Francisco Giants coming out of nowhere to be the best team in baseball, and the San Diego Padres continuing their recent ascent with their young talent.
Much like the Nationals, the Dodgers are coming off a strong June where they went 17-9 and are on a five-game winning streak coming into this series.
Here’s the lowdown from Nationals Park for the final home series before the All-Star Break...
- Game One: Thursday, July 1st, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Two: Friday, July 2nd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Three: Saturday, July 3rd, 7:15 pm EDT. TV: FOX, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game Four: Sunday, July 4th, 11:05 am EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan
- Game One: Patrick Corbin (5-6, 5.33 ERA) vs Tony Gonsolin (0-0, 2.77 ERA)
- Game Two: Max Scherzer (7-4, 2.14 ERA) vs Julio Urías (9-3, 3.95 ERA)
- Game Three: Paulo Espino (2-2, 2.02 ERA) vs Clayton Kershaw (9-7, 3.25 ERA)
- Game Four: Joe Ross (4-7, 4.12 ERA) vs Trevor Bauer (8-5, 2.59 ERA)
Kyle Schwarber: Have we kept Schwarber out of this section of the series previews for long enough now? Sure, let’s go with that. The last time we included him here was ahead of the four-game series with the New York Mets and he’s somehow hit even better since then.
In the 12 games since the start of the series with the Mets, Schwarber has slashed a quite frankly absurd .354/.415/1.104 with 12 more home runs and 19 RBIs. His wRC+ in those 12 games is 293, so he’s produced nearly three times as many runs as a league-average player.
Despite not hitting a home run in June until the 12th, Schwarber finished the month with 16, a number that only seven players have exceeded in a calendar month since 1901, while also setting or equalling numerous MLB records for most home runs in a span of games.
Moving Schwarber to the leadoff spot has sparked an offensive explosion for the Nats. Fans better be in their seats for the bottom of the first at Nationals Park or they could miss the fireworks.
Max Muncy: To this point in his career, Muncy has struggled against the Nationals.
In 16 regular-season games, Muncy has slashed just .200/.339/.280 against Washington. In the 2019 postseason though, Muncy went 5-for-19 with three home runs in the NLDS.
That could change in this four-game series. Since returning from the Injured List on June 22nd following a right oblique strain, Muncy has been on a roll, slashing .261/.414/.783 with three home runs and three doubles in 29 plate appearances, good for a 215 wRC+ in that span.
There are going to be plenty of threatening bats in the Dodgers’ lineup, but Muncy might be the hottest of the bunch coming into this weekend.
Sam Clay: When a team is on a run of 13 wins in 16 games, it’s pretty difficult to find players who you could deem to be cold, especially when the Nationals are getting contributions from all over the roster.
So, if anything, this is a bit harsh on Clay. However, after a strong start to the season for the ground ball-heavy pitcher, there are some gaps in the armor appearing.
In his last 14 appearances, Clay has surrendered at least one run in seven of those outings, giving him a 6.35 ERA in that span, with nine strikeouts and four walks.
Clay has recently risen into a more prominent spot in the bullpen with some of the recent injuries, but he’ll have to become more reliable in putting up zeroes to stay there.
AJ Pollock: After talking about someone who had a strong postseason against the Nationals in 2019, we look at a player who had an abysmal NLDS that year in Pollock.
That postseason, Pollock went 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts, eventually losing his starting spot in left field. If he’s not careful, he might lose his starting spot in the regular season too.
On the year, Pollock has an underwhelming .729 OPS but has struggled since June 13th, slashing just .191/.240/.340 with a home run, four doubles, and 10 strikeouts in 15 games.
With Zach McKinstry emerging as the season goes on, Pollock could end up being squeezed for playing time by the 26-year-old, perhaps as soon as this series in the nation’s capital.
From the opposing dugout
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One more thing to watch
Arguably the biggest thing that could hold the Nationals back from having a strong run into the All-Star Break is their bullpen.
In the games with the New York Mets on Monday and the Rays on Tuesday, fans could see that it was a bit of a tightrope act from manager Dave Martinez to get the ball from his starter to his closer, Brad Hand.
In this recent stretch, Hand was used three days in a row, including a five-out save along the way, Austin Voth pitched three out of four days, and Sam Clay pitched back-to-back games in big spots too.
Thankfully for the Nationals, they were able to put up 15 runs in the series finale against the Rays and get the pitchers they’d been taxing a lot lately some much-needed rest.
“These guys came out swinging the bats, it was what we needed to give our guys a little breather, given them a break” Martinez explained.
“The back end of the bullpen needed that, and these guys have stepped up, just like I said before, these guys have stepped up for us and they did well, and we got a nice win today.”
In Wednesday’s game, Martinez gave Nationals debuts to both Andres Machado and Kyle Lobstein, two relievers called up from Triple-A recently.
In a relief corps that can’t carry passengers right now with all the injuries they’ve suffered, this won’t be the last time we see them especially until the cavalry returns in the bullpen.
“We’re going to start getting some of these guys back, you know, some of our mainstays, the Hudsons, the Finnegans,” Martinez said on Wednesday. “Some of these other kids are getting an opportunity to pitch, like you saw Machado tonight, he threw the ball really well. So, they’re going to get an opportunity to pitch. That’s the way it happens, these guys got to step up and fill the void, and they’ve done well.”